Is it really all that crazy--or is it just one more way to compete when you're a David in a sea of Goliaths?
"IF EVERY WEEK WAS LIKE THIS ONE, I'D NEVER CLOSE THE DOORS."
So said the Fabulous Honey Parker last Friday after an especially productive and gratifying series of client presentations.
These presentations brought tears (for the right reasons), laughter, and lots of "Oooooooh, I like THAT."
There was a lot of fun, a lot of gratitude, and a lot of virtual high-fives. (Most of our work lately is done over the phone.)
No, this is not a typical week for Slow Burn Marketing.
But we do tend to have fewer problems than most people experience in a business like this.
And in part, the reason is simple.
NOW, OUR CLIENTS CONSIST ONLY OF PEOPLE WITH WHOM WE'D ENJOY HAVING DINNER
Yes, it's a rule you're probably not going to find at a joint the size of Grey Advertising.
One does not become the biggest ad agency in the world by being so discriminating.
Fortunately, we don't have any designs on being so big.
Early in our existence as Slow Burn, we realized that the only clients causing us trouble were the ones we really didn't enjoy to begin with.
They were the kind of people who thought they were smarter than everyone else, including us. They ended up creating problems that didn't need to happen. They looked to others for opinions and approvals rather than having the courage to make their own decisions.
SO WE DREW A LINE IN THE SAND
On this side of the line: people we'd enjoy having dinner with.
On the other side, people like the guy who said to us after a presentation, "I know that's the right way to do it, but I don't have time for that."
Since drawing that line, business has been a lot more fun.
Being more discriminating about who becomes a client has been really helpful.
But there's also another, more unusual reason why we end up with a week like last week.
It's about not being afraid of the Crazy Ivan.
YES, ROY WILLIAMS TALKS ABOUT THE CRAZY IVAN
In fact, it's one of the terms contained in the fabled Dictionary of the Cognoscenti of Wizard Academy.
The Dictionary defines Crazy Ivan thus: "a random element added to get attention."
I once heard Mr. Williams say he'd borrowed it from radio astronomy.
The term has been used to describe unusual, intermittent radio signals coming from a body under observation.
For instance, it could be a pulsar blob that "peeks" out from behind another celestial body and skews observation of that body.
Since the game of radio astronomy includes figuring out how to eliminate irrelevant background noise, a Crazy Ivan is just one challenge of the game.
A MORE COMMON USAGE COMES FROM NAVY SUBMARINERS
Once upon a time, Soviet submarines couldn't use sonar to "see" if a U.S. sub was following them in their baffle, which is the area immediately aft of the stern.
A kind of hydro shadow, that area is blind to hull-mounted sonar.
In order to find out whether they were being followed by an enemy sub, the Russians would perform a "crazy Ivan."
This is a maneuver in which a suspicious Russian captain would wheel the sub around in a kind of underwater power slide to "clear the baffle."
Frequently, the Russians would find themselves facing a surprised U.S. sub that was saying, "Oh, hey Ivan. Dude. Didn't see you there. Za zdaróvye!"
THAT'S HOW HOLLYWOOD DELIVERED THE CRAZY IVAN TO THE MASSES
It's a bit of business from the Alec Baldwin/Sean Connery thriller, The Hunt For Red October, based on the Tom Clancy blockbuster novel of the same name.
So, a pulsar blob, or a submarine maneuver. Or a problem in competitive paintball. (Not going there.)
All Crazy Ivan.
And none of them Slow Burn's Crazy Ivan.
But our Crazy Ivan is similar to both Mr. Williams' usage and the naval usage.
Because the former involves an element that's peeking out and taking your attention.
And the latter is about learning to pay attention to something that's following you around.
Both of those things are applicable in performing creative work.
THE TRICK IS IN FIGURING OUT HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM
Most people will ignore the nagging sensation that there's a Crazy Ivan tapping them on the shoulder, trying to command their attention.
One thing we've learned to do is embrace that sensation and try to flush out the culprit.
The result is that, when we present new brand names to a client, we usually have one Crazy Ivan in the mix.
This is the brand name no one saw coming.
The name that hits you right between the eyes.
The name that says," Go ahead, try to ignore me now."
One of the most unusual of our Crazy Ivan names has probably been Salt.
NOT THE FIRST NAME YOU'D THINK OF FOR A DENTAL PRACTICE MANAGEMENT CONSULTANCY
But we threw that into the brand presentation as the Crazy Ivan (mainly at the behest of Honey, who recognized its power much more quickly than did I--ironic, as I had blurted it out as a joke).
The result of rebranding the consultancy as Salt Dental Practice Management was an almost immediate doubling of the client base.
Last week, we had two presentations in which we presented respectable, usable, evocative names--
And a Crazy Ivan.
In both cases, the client reaction was enjoyable.
In the first, there was a gasp, followed by an, "Ooh, I like that!"
In the second there was a moment of silence, followed by a minute or so of breathless laughter.
SADLY, I'M NOT AT LIBERTY TO TALK ABOUT THOSE BRAND NAMES YET
We cannot let the brand cat out of the bag.
These are nascent undertakings and revealing them is the clients' prerogative.
But we can tell you each Crazy Ivan is surprising and unexpected and a cause for delight in two business niches in which delight is unusual.
In fact, both of these businesses are about solving big problems.
One of the efforts is even life-altering, speaking to people who are in pain and under extreme duress.
And the names of both businesses are cause for at least some degree of happiness, joy and hope.
SO WHAT IS THE POINT OF ALL THIS BABBLE, ANYWAY?
The point is this: listen for the Crazy Ivan.
If you come up with a crazy idea, NEVER say, "Well, that's really good, but we can't use it."
Yes, sometimes that idea might be rough.
The idea might require some refinement.
And one must be smart enough to recognize where the power comes from and what must be done to harness that power while sloughing off the baggage or any other impediment.
And one must be able to recognize whether it's an appropriate Crazy Ivan.
CALLING A MORTUARY "FUNERAL FUN!" IS PROBABLY A BAD IDEA
So would be calling an investment advisory, "Fountains Of Filthy Lucre."
And compliance would never allow it.
But don't be afraid to act like an upstart--especially if you happen to be an upstart.
Which, by definition, describes most people reading this screed.
Watch and listen for Crazy Ivan.
Whether it's a business name, an idea for a promotion, the name of a product or service, or even a headline for an ad, don't fear the Crazy Ivan.
Handled properly, he might help you make crazy money.
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Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.