Analysis & Opinion

Highlights from The EDGE

June 25, 2010 MullenLowe

Before June 24th, I was proud of the agency where I work — now I can also say I’m proud of the town I work in. Because on June 24th, I — along with a few others from Mullen — was fortunate enough to be in attendance at The EDGE Conference: Branded In Boston.

For those unfamiliar with the event, Boston’s Ad Club scheduled a daylong conference, which, aimed this year to “celebrate revolutionary brands, companies, and individuals that were ‘born’ in Boston, and whose innovation is influencing others around the globe.”

That was the conference’s mission statement, and I say mission accomplished. Between the hours of 8:00AM-6:00PM, attendees were treated to 32 of Boston’s premiere talent taking the stage over the course of 17 presentations.

As I type those numbers out, I’m still in disbelief. To think all that quality information was successfully managed into one day (huge props to the organizers).

But as I type those numbers out, I also shudder at the daunting task that is properly describing every single presentation. Even if I tried to summarize the entire day, it would be at the sacrifice of each presentation’s individual impact. So rather than summarize or describe every single presentation, I’d like to focus on just a few that made this event a memorable one.

Early in the morning, Mayor Thomas Menino and two of his right hand men, Andrew Feinberg (Policy Advisor to the Mayor) and Mitchell Weiss (Chief of Staff to the Mayor), introduced the audience to a brand new initiative: Boston’s “Innovation District.” Like all good plans, the strategy was clear and concise: Create a living environment that will attract and retain innovators to Boston. With 1,000 acres in South Boston ripe for development, the Mayor and his staff plan to create such an area — one that offers affordable housing, communal workspace for businesses, entrepreneurs and researchers, as well as a fun living environment that is, well, worth living in.

Once completed, this project has the potential not only to attract brilliant minds to the area, but also to produce ideas that could have impact on a local, national, or international level — creating new jobs at every level in the process. It’s a forward thinking vision that reminded me of environment’s importance in innovation, and why our agency’s environment has been — and must continue to play — a critical role in our own success.

A little after lunch (it was chicken with risotto, in case you were wondering), the amiable CMO of ZipCar, Rob Weisberg, greeted the crowd. ZipCar was recently named one of Ad Age’s thirty “Hottest Brands in the World,” and Mr. Weisberg explained exactly how his brand got there: its values.

The presentation kicked off by engaging the audience in an exercise where we all stood up. The CMO asked us to close our eyes and think of our first unaccompanied drive—the one from our youth. He asked that we hold onto that feeling during his presentation, because it’s that sense of freedom, which is the core value that guides everything his brand does.

Many in the crowd were shocked by the financial burden of personal transportation. The CMO revealed that 19% of HHI is spent on our cars, even though they sit idle over 90% of the time. “That’s a lot to spend on something you hardly drive.” Not to mention, one vehicle doesn’t fit every user need — moving day is different than a beach trip. And the fact remains public transportation doesn’t address all our needs when it comes to transporting larger items like furniture, or traveling further distances.

Given all these problems, ZipCar has professed a simple, yet transformational vision: Urban transportation is broken. And their brand plans to fix it.

ZipCar has a solid definition of success for that mission: It’s the day the world’s car sharing members outnumber car owners. Talk about ambitious, but that’s the brand’s ultimate goal.

That goal and the brand’s core values are put on cards and given to each employee to carry on them at all times, to help guide the ideas of any brand discussion they may enter. The result is successful promotional ideas, fun fleet options, and clever innovation — the kind that turns an iPhone into a reservation device, car finder (honk the car from your phone in the parking lot) and key to your ride.

ZipCar’s presentation spoke to a simple tenet we often take for granted. That tenet being, when a brand knows what it wants it usually gets what it wants. ZipCar really knows what it wants and it makes sure every employee from top to bottom is on the same page. It has created a brand culture that knows where it’s going, and, as a result, is figuring out how to get there on a daily basis. We would all do better to ask ourselves in a simple, clear way: Where is our there? Let’s define it in the simplest terms possible—if it’s longer than a headline, it simply won’t do. Once we have that, the “how to get there” part comes easy.

The end of the day had me thinking robotics might not be as far off in the future as I once believed. As Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto coursed through the speakers, Chairman of the Board, CEO and Co-Founder of iRobot, Colin Angle took to the stage. A true storyteller, he brought the audience along his personal journey of struggles and lucky breaks for his company.

iRobot is best known for its cleaning product, the Roomba, but it wasn’t always going to be called that. The original names they had in mind were Dust Puppy and Cybersuck, until they made the positive move to hand off naming to an outside company. An important lesson that, sometimes, we get too close to what we’re working on for us make the right decision.

Initial sales were not so hot for the intelligent vacuum, but, as luck would have it, the Roomba became a success after a Pepsi commercial starring Dave Chappelle woke up the world to the idea of its category. Later on, luck would hit again when an SNL skit advertising the “Woomba” added a secondary boost to the product’s awareness. Both were unexpected, free promotions that were embraced as they launched the company further into the public eye.

Just like ZipCar, iRobot knows where it wants to be. Even just ten years from now, Mr. Angle envisions his robots assisting in the care of aged baby bombers. But what impressed me more than Colin’s vision was his drive: his company had 14 failed business models, yet continued on. How many of us would have stopped at the third failure? How about the tenth? It goes to show that a sound vision can keep you going, and if you keep going, you just might see that vision become real.

Perhaps my biggest takeaway from this event is that Boston has produced some remarkable talent with an influence well beyond that of the city itself. And as I left with the rest of the group from Mullen with new insights fresh in our minds, I know we also left with the same feeling: Our agency is in Boston, and if there’s any proof that great things can come from the people in this town, we have a damn good shot of being one of them.