All That Inspires Me

Keith Stoeckeler asked me to guest post on his most excellent blog, All That Inspires Me

As Keith describes it, the blog is about inspiration and creative sparks that often skew towards strategy, advertising, marketing, branding and packaging.

Or in my case, 127 year old restaurants.

Here's my entry.  Make sure you check out others on his site.


He put his hand on my head, like one of those TV preachers.  "You're good people, baby."  

And at that moment, I was healed of all that ailed me.

But this was no mega-church.  And he was no preacher, though he shared the same mega-watt smile.

This was P.J. Clarke's - the original on 3rd Avenue and 55th Street in Manhattan.

And He is Doug Quinn, bartender and subject of a 2010 New York Times article. 

For serving cheeseburgers on plain white plates, with no frills.

For not offering "Free WiFi!"

For having one tiny TV tucked in the corner of the bar.

For the meatloaf special.

For serving ketchup - Heinz of course - in a bottle and not a silly ramekin.

For attracting suits, punks, grandmas and newborns.

For being the place where my wife and I shared so many unremarkable, yet special moments during our many years in New York.

For not having a hair out of place every time I return for a visit.

For being true to its roots, 127 years running.

For the healing powers of Doug Quinn.

P.J. Clarke's is what inspires me.

5 Marketing Lessons from Wine Country

Disclaimer:  Don't worry ... I have no intention of fashioning myself as the next Gary the "social media sommelier" Vaynerchuk [for those of you who are not familiar with Gary, check out for a truly unique experience].

I recently returned from my first-ever trip to California wine country [specifically Sonoma].  In addition to pristine weather, post-card vistas, incredible wine and some of the best food I've ever had, I also picked up a few lessons that might be useful for any marketer.

Lesson 1 - In sea of uneducated consumers, free is a good starting point:  If you're like me you haven't the faintest idea why one winery is better than the next.  The ones we ended up visiting our first day were largely based on free tasting passes [a $10-$20 value] passed on by our concierge.  Not the most sophisticated method of choosing, but a starting point.  I'm not advising marketers give away their product [who do you think I am, Chris Anderson?] but I do think trial is crucial, and free is as powerful driver of that behavior. 

Lesson 2 - Get your story straight, then tell it with passion: My wife and I were fortunate enough to visit with a guy called Stewart Dorman who runs a winery called Adrian Fog.  Stewart has a great story [former wine writer ... left to pursue his passion ... spends his days toiling in the vineyards or perfecting his blends ... only makes 1,000 cases barrels a year ... etc.].  It's not so much Stewart's story [which is awesome] but the passion with which he tells it.  We walked away from our conversation with two bottles of relatively expensive wine - I wanted to take part of Stewart's story home with us.

Lesson 3 - Create a captivating and differentiating experience: Of all the places we visited, we only joined one wine club - and it wasn't necessarily the best wine we had [but it was damn good].  Rather, it was the winery that did an elegant snack pairing with their tasting flight, spent an hour talking us through the flight, answered our questions, told us their history ... they were the anti-wine snobs.  And it made their tasting room different than the others, and a really fun experience.  The winery is Williamson Wines.

Lesson 4 - "Limited edition" can be a powerful sales tool: I quickly realized that most wine for sale was not available for distribution [meaning only sold direct or via a wine club]. So the pitch is: You can't get this anywhere else other than buying it right now.  Wouldn't it be a shame to get home and think to yourself, 'too bad I didn't get that wine when I had the chance'?

Lesson 5 - Search is king:  Found on every street corner in the town of Healdsburg.  Charming, no?


All About Foursquare

This was originally posted on Ogilvy's Travel and Tourism blog.  I realize most of the people who read this blog already know about Foursquare.  But for my father ...


Foursquareis an interesting, fun and [at times] useful service that’s gotten some solid buzz in the last few months.  It’s the brainchild of the folks who brought us the one-time Internet service darling, Dodgeball.  I found this article from the New York Future Initiative which does a nice job of explaining the service, and the creators’ vision for what it might become.

With the ever-growing buzz, I thought you might appreciate the skinny …

What it is

Foursquare describes itself as 50% friend-finder, 30% social cityguide, 20% nightlife game, though my personal bias is that [at least for the time being] it’s more game.

How it works

A player checks in with Foursquare when they are out and about at a restaurant, bar, museum, movie theater, etc.  Checking in earns you points.  Points earn status [e.g, I was for a fleeting moment the Mayor of the Bowery Hotel Bar].  You can also earn badges for doing interesting things, like checking in at odd times or out-of-the-way places.

For now points/badges only get you bragging rights, though clearly that will change at some point [e.g., Ian checked in 5 times at Old Town Social, earning him a free cocktail].

How you "play"

Players check in via a slick iPhone app [uses GPS to find your location and things around you], mobile site and text message.  You can have Foursquare ping Twitter when you check in.

Where it works

At the time of this post, Foursquare is  available in: Amsterdam, Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C.

My recommendation

If you’ve got an iPhone, I recommend giving it a whirl - nothing to lose.  If you’re a marketer, you should take a peak under the hood so you understand the possibilities when Foursquare [inevitably] opens for [paid] business.  If you’re a business in one of the cities above [particularly in a hipster neighborhood] maybe play around with rewarding patrons for checking in from your store/bar/restaurant.

It’s not there yet, and may never be.  But I continue to hear the buzz …

If Twitter Were My Only Source Of Information


Thinking this afternoon about the Twitter echo chamber, and personally, what I'm getting out of it. 

For one, it's entertaining.  Very entertaining.  It's also quite useful for connecting with people in my industry.  And without a doubt, I have stumbled on some great content [related to previous points].  Finally, it's allowed me to keep in touch with some people from my past who might have otherwise fallen off my radar.

But as a simple exercise I thought about this question:  What would I think of the world if Twitter were my only source of information.  Here are few off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts - presented as "Myth" and "Reality." 

Of course my views are totally informed by who I follow.  So I'm wondering what YOU would think of the world if Twitter were YOUR only source of information?  Leave a comment.  Or Tweet me @iansohn.

Myth 1:
Austin, TX is where all important global decisions are made. [Reality: For some it is, but for my money I'll take New York]

Myth 2:
Brands, like Skittles, that don't get their first foray into social media right are failures [Reality:  I was always more of an M&Ms guy, but applaud Skittles for their exploration into the unknown. Furthermore, I dare anyone to claim they've never taken a step backward to take two forward]

Myth 3: FaceBook is horribly designed and the evil empire looking to steal all our intellectual capital [Reality: FaceBook remains a massive force in social media, and is quite useful for what it is.  Furthermore, their TOCs are really no different than anyone else - are they?  Finally, it's not THAT horrible of a design.]

Myth 4: President Obama enjoys a 100% approval rating [Reality: I do love the man, but don't forget there are a whole bunch of people out there who voted McCain-Palin.  This NASCAR blindness (I can't use that term enough, thank you @awolk for coining it) will get the Dems in trouble come 2012.]

Myth 5: Shaquille O'Neal is a poet [Reality: Shaquille O'Neal is a poet; and is having an epic comeback season]

Innocent Keeps It Simple [Therefore Effective]

The next time someone tries to sell you on a complicated [and expensive] technology solution that's sure to engage your customers, ask if their technology can deliver as simple, delightful and powerful an interaction as the one I had this morning with Innocent Drinks on Twitter.  Read from the top down.

"Sorry, Good morning" was great.  But "Good evening" 4 hours later - out of nowhere - was brilliant. 

Well done Innocent - there's a reason you are often cited as a model brand in the social media space.

Picture 1

Level Vodka Tunnel

I am digging this.  Level Vodka has teamed with fashion designer Hussein Chalayan to create the “Level Tunnel.”  Level started a blog - - to track the progress of the building of the tunnel and its travels around the world. 

To quote the press release:

The Level Tunnel by Hussein Chalayan vol. 08 is a world of its own, which can be experienced by viewing it from the outside and exploring it blindfolded from the inside. It’s a 15 m meter- long, almost 5-meter-high installation made of fiberglass, glass and leather – to mention just a few of its materials. The installation will tour the world, starting in Mexico City in May 2008.

“… The idea is to engage in a captivating sensual experience of scent, sound and touch. I want to match all senses – excluding vision – to emphasize the exceptional taste of Level Vodka,” explains Hussein Chalayan.

Visitors will enter and walk through the installation blindfolded. Inside, they will be sensually and innovatively enveloped with the unique taste of Level Vodka through scent, sound and touch. They will hear music played on a flute made with a Level Vodka bottle. The glass bottle creates a protective shell that results in muted, hypnotic acoustics. Also inside: a breeze carries the scent of lemon and cedar and conjures up the flavor of Level Vodka. Railings coated in the softest leather run through the installation to create an exclusive tactile experience. Before entering the installation, visitors will be fitted with a heart monitor, which displays their heartbeat on the outside of the tunnel.

The blog features a few videos – I really like this making of the tunnel video here.

What's Your Whopper?

BurgerkingAs I spent the better part of yesterday traipsing around Chicago looking for a new pair of jeans, something occurred to me.  My favorite denim brand?  Levi's.  My favorite fast-food brand?  Burger King.  My favorite products from those brands ... 501s and the Whopper respectively. 

Here's the rub ... I haven't owned a pair of 501s in, well, maybe ever.  And I can't tell you the last time I ate a Whopper.  So what gives? 

I'm not 100% sure.  But I think it's that both brands have done an incredible job iconizing their hero products, and that's what draws me into the brand.  And when I get there I realize that 501s don't fit me all that well and I prefer the chicken sandwich.  But I don't care, because what I'm really after is an association with the brand, not necessarily any one product.

So my question is, what's your Whopper?  What's the service or product that customers come to you for, even if they end up buying something else?

P.S. I ended up with a pair of 514s [slim fit, straight leg]

P.P.S.  In case you've been living under a rock, check out Whopper Freakout to see what true brand obsession is.  I love this campaign - one of my favorites in a long time.