Thursday, April 30, 2009

China Boys

When Sandy Levin, the founder and CEO of Import Traders, made his first trip to China in the very early ‘70s, he didn’t know the name of the hotel he’d be staying it – the Chinese wouldn’t tell him ‘til he got there.

“It was a totally different society…everyone carried Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book in their pocket and it was full of sayings, mostly anti-entrepreneurial, anti-American and anti-the-rest-of-the-world.”

One satisfaction of crafting fresh, contemporary copy for the revamped
Import Traders website has been talking to Levin, who was also one of just 40 Americans invited to the ’74 Canton Fair. Another has been working with Barrett-Wehlmann, Import Traders’ Houston-based marcomms agency, as it developed the new company site.

Even today, it’s no simple matter for many American manufacturers who don’t have offices in China to have products sourced and manufactured there – then shipped over to the US for distribution and sale. So Import Traders has been building and maintaining relationships with factories in China for decades.

Having done business in developing areas of Eastern Europe, I knew going in that reliability is a key issue. Import Traders has solved that two ways. One, the company really does know the Chinese very well. And two, Import Traders guarantees the manufactures to its US customers’ satisfaction…pretty bold for a “simple middleman.”

Import Traders is more than a middleman. That made the difference clear enough for anyone (even me). Here’s a company that has solved a big problem in overseas manufacturing: The question of trust.

Since part of this assignment was to talk with satisfied Import Traders customers here in the US, I also had the chance to discuss specific challenges with manufacturing engineers, marketers and inventors...I had a chance to learn even more. Chinese manufacturing is not just for tchotchkes any more…hasn’t been for years. (That’s “trinkets,” in case your Yiddish isn’t working today.)

There’s still a save-you-money angle. But the real issue is trustworthiness. I think that’s what the website and the content convey, whether prospects are trying to source and produce picture frames or printed circuit boards.

So thanks to the “China Boys” at Barrett-Wehlmann for letting me work on this site, now a very effective combination of business-like and attractive. That’d be Carl Glatzel on art direction and Darrell Wehlmann on web build and search engine optimization. The Creative Director is James Grantham; the Management Super is Bill Barrett.

And thanks to Levin for the great conversation, too.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rebranding PSI…

I don’t often get to use a 450-year-old map as part of a rebranding campaign. Now, in one headline, Petrophysical Solutions, Inc has launched a fresh brand platform. One headline and that antique map, which displays the Gulf of Mexico, now appear together in the Houston company’s first new ad.

Petrophysical Solutions, Inc (PSI) delivers single-well analysis, integrated field studies, seismic petrophysics, interpretations of large petrophysical databases and old log sets and other geophysical consulting capabilities.

The map comes from the cartographic collection of PSI’s President, Bill Price. It was created by Sebastian Münster in 1540. Titled “Tabula Novarum Insularum,” it holds the real key to the company’s rebranding.
You see, Münster’s map was the first to name the Pacific Ocean (Mare Pacifum). First to show one of the earliest depictions of Japan (Zipangri). That ship? It’s Magellan’s Victoria, the only vessel of five to survive his round-the-world voyage. But Münster relied on accounts of the New World by Giovanni da Verrazzano to create that part of the map. That’s where the “Great Mistake” began. According to Price:

Verrazano sailed by the Outer Banks of Carolina. When he observed the sounds on the other side of the barrier islands, he mistook them for the sought-after Northwest Passage. Such was the desire of Europe to find an alternative route to Asia, they would grasp at anything that seemed to lead in that direction. Had Verrazano taken the time to investigate, he would have discovered his mistake.

It’s what can happen in the oil industry today: Too many companies buy into a “sail-by” or quickie interpretation. They’re misled by the fast (or pretty) look, then waste their valuable money on completing zones that shouldn’t be tested or worse.

The new PSI brand campaign takes “Petrophysics that Pays Off” vividly to market. The company devotes more time – and expertise – coming up with a consistent, comprehensive interpretation that represents all the information gathered.

We’ve just begun to roll out the message that better, more informed discoveries drive value. Thanks to the clients, as well as to Kay Krenek for design and art direction. There’ll be more to come…

“Petrophysics that Pays Off” and “Discoveries Drive Value” are trademarks of Petrophysical Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Extra Fielder

In a 2007 Artist’s Statement, Garland Fielder said:

In my current work I continue to explore the relationship between anticipation and fulfillment. I have created installations that examine two-dimensional expectations and three-dimensional presentations. The viewer is challenged in surmising the orientation of the artwork, and thereby draws into question his/her own assumptions about reality at large. It is the act of interpretation that interests me and gives me hope.

Adding additional photos to the blog helps demonstrate the challenge Fielder highlights. (Maybe that’s one reason why he enjoyed doing the piece for our modest collection.) In these pix, you can see something of the stairwell’s curved walls…the cube is approximately 10 feet above the stair.

A bit of a challenge for us here as well: We can’t turn our old digital camera’s flash off, so the bright light washes out the fascinating/entertaining shadow lines formed by the cube frames.

New Fielder

We’ve just finished watching artist Garland Fielder install this commissioned piece here at the house – outstanding!

“Untitled 2009” is a 17-inch poplar cube, six colors of automotive lacquer clear-coated. Barbara Nytes-Baron selected the colors and the location: In the space above the stairwell between our first and second floors. See other examples of Fielder work here. Many thanks to the artist and to Anya Tish of the Anya Tish Gallery. More photos soon.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Flying Tourbillon..?

I’ve been watching what other people read – a function of LinkedIn. I had become a little self-conscious about my colleagues’ choices, imposing business and branding books by all the current big names. Whilst I have been sucking down military history and science fiction.

I had the chance to upgrade my reading material with the arrival of the latest special issue of Golf Digest/Index. Don’t know why I received this magazine; though I love the concept, I don’t actually play golf. I also recognize the game’s role in conspicuous consumption.

So it was with no particular surprise when I reviewed the magazine’s back cover ad. This, my friends, is a Cartier Ballon de Bleu Flying Tourbillon Men’s Watch…I don’t even know what half this stuff means, but it’s a damned impressive ad. That copy on the lower right? Here’re a few lines:

Rose gold case on alligator strap. Mechanical movement with manual winding. Cartier caliber 4952 M/C (10 and ¾ lines, 19 jewels, 21,000 vibrations per hours. Seconds indicated by the C-shaped tourbillon cage (aha!). Movement developed and assembled by the Cartier Manufacture…

Pretty fancy copy and not much of it – all feature, feature, feature. The benefit is it’s a Cartier watch.

This Flying Whatever lists for…$96,500. But pick the right online retailer and you can get it for $75k, or $74k…or even $73,340.

I love the magazine. I probably won’t receive any more issues, but my hat’s right off to publisher Thomas J Bair and the other people who produce it. They’ve pegged an upscale audience, deliver some well-written features and do not shrink from the tough job of promoting stylish excess.

BTW, shop and you can get a fine simulacrum of the same watch for $100 – that’s all I can afford after Tax Day, anyway.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Birthday Jeep

The year I was born, Willy began advertising its military Jeep* to Americans on the home front. Like a lot of other US companies, the car-maker (and major supplier to the armed forces) wanted to begin creating a brand that went beyond war fronts all over the world…to the one society left on the planet whose future, at that instant, looked brightest.

That’s the future I was born into. And the “classic” Jeep is the first motor vehicle I can remember my daddy, Paul Baron, owning. Sometime after he returned to Atlanta from overseas service with the US Army Air Corps, he acquired a war-surplus CJ-2A Jeep. (Not a new one – that’s to laugh.)

I barely recall it – I spent that period of my life tucked in a wooden box nestled between the Jeep’s two front seats when my daddy and momma drove it to the Piedmont Drive-In Theater on Friday nights.

It wasn’t our last Jeep either. The family owned a couple of Willys Jeep Station Wagons until daddy settled on Chevy as the family brand. When I turned 16, the first car daddy bought me was a well-used 1949 Willys Jeepster, bright yellow…the canvas top hardly leaked at all. He spent more than he intended, but it was (I hope) worth it. I wonder if my sister Evalyn remembers that one?

One line of copy in that Jeep ad up top says, “Soon, Willys dealers will be showing the Universal Jeep. When you see it, you can envision the many, many ways it will serve mankind.”

As a birthday memory, it continues to serve. Thanks, daddy.

*A lot of companies produced “Jeeps” originally. Willys-Overland acquired the trademark for itself in 1950 – read all about it here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Early Crappy

Is there anything better than children who actually listen to you when you say what you want for your birthday? I think not.

Molto thankos to Rachel Baron and Alison Bond for one early-arriving birthday present: My own Tuf-Fluck Crappy Cat.

As Jeremy Bratman says, “Crappy Cat is 9 inches of intoxicated feline vinyl.” I am proud to have it standing tall next to my computer monitor! And thanks to all you early-birthday well-wishers. Tomorrow’s the magic day…See ya!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Blend Mail

I’ve just been talking about INEXS (see the jerseys). Now let me crow a bit louder over the company’s precisely targeted direct mail.

Simple but strong, these 3D mailers have been arriving in oil and gas companies all over Texas as part of a four-part campaign. Each one portrays the benefits of a particular set of this Houston geophysical consulting firm’s practices. The first wave explains proven INEXS capabilities in Regional Geologic Studies, along with a specially packaged coffee we call “Haynesville Blend.”

[The Haynesville Shale is a hot oil-and-gas-producing region – INEXS does a lot of work with prospects in this area. Read more about that's good for your education.]

Each mailer encompasses the coffee, selling benefits and a request to meet over a cuppa joe, under the campaign title “Fuel for Solutions.” There are other mailers (with different coffee blends) that point up Exploration Evaluation, Integrated Field Studies and A and D Assistance.

Read all about these subjects on the INEXS website. At the same time, you’ll discover how this Fuel for Solutions campaign marries up to the strong INEXS brand story.

On decision-making, campaign kudos go to the client. On creative, there’s Stacy Allen, Terry Teutsch and Susan Reeves of Prism Design. And Richard Laurence Baron (which would be me).

There’s more than brand power behind this mail series. Each coffee label features artwork by Sydney Strahan, the Houston-based painter whose subject is “art from the heart of the earth.” She uses geological core sample slabs for inspiration and her work is widely recognized in this part of the oilpatch.

Lucky recipients get packages that are impossible NOT to open; business-focused messages; and a bit of a reward in the form of most everyone’s favorite fuel.

Thanks to all the usual suspects for the chance to create and send this great series.

I ought to mention the java’s roasted and packaged by Independence Coffee Company just up the road in Washington County.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Bikers Branded

I revel in the knowledge that a brand I helped spring to life has received its most critical seal of approval: The client adopted it for cycling jerseys.

INEXS President Craig Davis, VP Hector Sepulveda and Marketing Executive Laura Kamrath are training for the 2009 BP MS 150 (180 miles, really, Houston to Austin). Adapting the corporate look for bikers’ wear is Terry Teutsch of Prism Design. IMO, it adds even more muscle to the brand.

Ride, INEXSians…Ride like the wind!

Watch the roads for the INEXS peloton: See Human-Powered Geoscience© in action.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Bad Eggs

Rachel Baron visited Houston this week and brought goodies. Specifically, Barbara and I are now the proud owners of about a dozen of the latest Kidrobot® urban art figures. (The girl really knows how to treat the ‘rents.)

Kidrobot is the self-proclaimed “Earth’s premier creator and retailer of limited-edition toys, clothing, artwork and books.” I was a little miffed since I misplaced my Aztec dunny figure. I stashed it away when I put up the ED-209 and now I can’t find the dunny. On top of that, I can’t find my Smorkin’ Labbit. Damn.

I feel much better now. It’s true that Rachel has spoiled us with so many of the various lines…Mongers, Heroes of Burgertown, BFFs and Debilz. It’s hard to pick favorites but – of the current batch – I gotta love the “Bad Eggs” Ace and Joey, from the MongersTM Menthols series.

Listen, I gotta run. It’s Saturday, I’d still like to get a bike ride in. I have to say, though, that now I’ve been poking around on the Kidrobot site again and I’m seriously jonesing for Jamungo’s Tuf-Fluck Crappy Cat.

Oooh! I have a birthday coming up…did I mention that?

PS: It’s possible you haven’t got a clue about Kidrobot stuff. You are seriously behind the pop-culture curve if that’s the case. Happy April…