Living your best creative work life requires two pieces. Firstly, doing what you love. Secondly, not having to do what you don’t. Case study: @stimulatedinc, my own creative studio where I developed a framework that let us eliminate thousands of hours of non-creative work for each project we take on.
For instance, our team will deliver over 22,000 seconds of original, high-level animated content in the first half of 2021. However, we will never have to do the following non-creative work.
We never have to search for artists
We never have to assign work to artists
We never have to jump around between sites
We never have to do project management
We never have to wade through emails
We never have to worry about being disrupted
We never have to have too many technologies
We never have to give artists instructions
We never have to do inefficient, costly, and exhausting work
We never have to work without a framework
Eliminating these pain-points from our creative work lives eliminated thousands of hours of zero-return, high-strain, non-creative work for myself and my team. Whatsmore, I could convert these found hours into high-value creative work. Most importantly, this benefits all of our stakeholders, from our internal team, to our remote workforce, to our clientele.
Kicking non-creative work out of your way before you trip and fall over it isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. Here’s my approach. Firstly, start by forecasting any problem that might hurt your ability to keep ahead of the world’s evolving creative needs. Secondly, imagine a framework that would let you head off those problems before they become problems. Thirdly, design and build the framework. Finally, implement the framework.
The frameworks I develop always include a technique, a set of rules, and technology to simplify complex workflows. I’ve been doing it for my entire career, from my earliest days as a post production supervisor until today. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Off-the-shelf solutions never work, because there’s only one of you and your unique set of problems. Experimenting with off-the-shelf solutions, or improvising with them will only cost you time and money while you fail to find a real solution that helps you thrive.
If this sounds like a lot of work it is. But immediate gratification is also possible by leveraging an existing framework. For instance, Stimulated.Works, the content production resource for agencies. This helps advertising, marketing, and digital agencies to produce high-level digital advertising and marketing content without having to search for talent or manage artists.
When you assign work to an artist, will you really get their best work? You’ll never find out until you try something different. For instance, what if you could let artists read job briefs and tell you what jobs excite them? Would you get better work? I wanted to find out, so nine years ago I designed a bidding system into Stimulated.Works. Now my production team could post briefs with all the details and specs of our animation, motion, development & design jobs. And when we click to make our jobs ‘Live’, all of our curated artists can see them. This lets our curated artists see every detail of the job, including creative requirements, technical specs, budgets and dates. If an artist sees a job that excites them, they click to submit a bid. These bids are mini job applications that let our production team know which curated artists are capable, available and onboard with the job terms. Bids can arrive within minutes and work often starts right away.
So, did this get us better work? You bet it did. Today our curated artists often exceed our expectations, which is what we have come to expect of them. Better work comes naturally due to the Stimulated.Works technique. To sum it up, our technique is the opposite of assigning work, and another case study in how to fix a broken system called creative work.
Stimulated-Inc. is celebrating its 16th anniversary and we want to commemorate this milestone in a big way. Since we couldn’t throw a sweet-sixteen party due to Covid, we decided to do something we love instead- tell our story through visual art and media.
Our curiosity for doing new things inspired us to turn our Instagram gallery into a creative showcase of years past. Over the next four weeks we will roll out a series of visual works inspired by our sixteen-year history. Our storyline will unfold as we reveal each art piece- beginning with this one.
This image pays tribute to our roots in transforming music-television and concerts into heart-pounding, ears-bleeding, cortical-singing fan experiences.
In 2004, our visionary, Robb Wagner, saw the potential for big LED screens to be used in completely different ways. He saw them not as just an extension of lighting or scenery, but rather as an extension of narrative and story. Robb committed himself to raising the bar for these big screens, and launched Stimulated-Inc. as the antidote to mundane cut-and-paste visual content. In 2005 Stimulated-Inc. stormed the industry, bringing big video screens to life in seemingly impossible ways. The studio instantly stepped into a role as an industry-leader, being noticed and recruited by the “77th Annual Academy Awards” and the “MTV Video Music Awards” in its first year.
Historic Factoid: The 2005, water-themed VMAs took place in Miami and the rehearsal was shut down when hurricane Katrina ripped through southern Florida. Look for the fishes in our visual story. After the storm, the show went on and Robb spearheaded P. Diddy’s virtual duet with the late Notorious B.I.G., and grew Shakira into a 30-foot high Queen of Latin Music. During this event Stimulated-Inc. also gave My Chemical Romance the visual superpowers they needed to pump the audience’s heart with an explosive performance of “Helena”.
Over the next five years, Stimulated-Inc. went on to transform music show-by-show and concert-by-concert, for the biggest tv networks, music artists and millions of fans the world-over.
A-list artists included Beyonce, The Pussycat Dolls, Foo Fighters and Michael Jackson. Major broadcast events included The “MTV Video Music Awards”, “MTV Movie Awards” and “VH1 Rock Honors”. Significant global events included “Live Earth, The Concerts For A Climate In Crisis”. Other global music events included “Disney’s High-School Musical, The Concert Tour”. For Disney, Robb and his team worked with film director Kenny Ortega to create a new, interactive kind of concert experience, where live stars on stage traded verses and choruses with pre-filmed stars on the big screens. To achieve this Robb and his team reverse-edited Disney’s TV film and turned it into something new.
From this point on, Stimulated-Inc.’s method of Experiential Transformation started to emerge and the studio became focused on the radical creativity that drove this project to success. Robb Wagner coined the term Hyper-Transformation, which meant taking a brand’s existing assets and transforming them into something that people have simply never experienced before. During this period Stimulated-Inc. became a go-to for other industries that were eager to try new things.
In film, Stimulated-Inc. helped Disney and Sony make two of the top-three grossing concert-films of all time. In 2007, Stimulated-Inc. was chosen as the live directing company by Disney for its “Disney’s Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds 3D” concert film, and in 2009 by Sony, as a creative producer of “Michael Jackson’s This Is It”. During this technologically-explosive era in entertainment history, live music was transformed into a visual artform, and Stimulated-Inc. was at the center of this Experiential Transformation.
If you were part of our story, or even if you weren’t, please share a comment. And please follow our Instagram @stimulatedincto see our visual story series unfold over the next four weeks.
With so many in-house agency and other creative teams being forced to work remotely, I want to offer my help. In the short videos below I’m sharing insights gained over seven years overseeing large-scale remote creative projects. I have included a link at the bottom of this blog for anyone that wants to reach out with questions. Stay safe and be well.
1. SHIFT YOUR THINKING FROM PROJECTS TO JOBS (:36)
2. CREATE STRONG BRIEFS TO GET THE BEST WORK (:27)
3. IMPLEMENT PROCEDURES OR LOSE CONTROL (:18)
4. USE A SERIAL NUMBER TO ID EACH JOB IN PRODUCTION (:34)
5. IDENTIFY AND NAME EACH STAGE OF YOUR PROCESS (:49)
6. A SIMPLE WAY TO ORGANIZE ITERATIONS (2:01)
7. ONLINE SERVICES ARE A PROBLEM TO OVERCOME (1:34)
8. COMMUNICATION IS ANOTHER PROBLEM TO SOLVE (:35)
THE SECRET REASON WHY DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION ISN’T WORKING FOR HOTELS AND RESORTS
By Robb Wagner
Even as world travel is on the rise, the US hospitality industry is facing more enemies than ever before. To survive, the entire industry will need a secret weapon in the battle to win the hearts, minds and bookings of today’s travelers. It turns out, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Guests are complicated. But if there is a guiding light, it is that they are consistent in their complexity.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when all travelers expected was a bed, a phone and a writing desk. A television was considered a luxury.1 Even as recently as the 1990’s, some travelers were forced to phone in their reservations because online booking wasn’t available.2 But thanks to the growing affordability of travel, an unprecedented access to guest reviews, the increasing presence and utility of the IoT (internet of things) and the relentless demand for innovation, the entire hospitality landscape has changed and it’s never going back. “Digital transformation” is now table stakes. And in some cases, it’s failing miserably. C-suite executives must step up with bold solutions right now — or risk falling off the map forever.
A PERFECT STORM OF CHALLENGES
U.S. travel from abroad is down. As the U.S. Travel Association reports: America’s share of the international travel market declined from 13.8% in 2015 to 12.2% in 2017.3 And a recent Tourism Economics report shows that there is reason to think that growth will continue to slow throughout 2019.4,5 Private rentals through platforms such as AirBnB and VRBO threaten to compete for the remaining business, and there is speculation that Google and Amazon are scheming to disrupt the industry further.6 Add to this the huge role online customer reviews now play into bookings7, and it is obvious why the industry is scrambling to use digital innovation to win the customer experience game.
“DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION” DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK
For hotels and resorts, turning first-time visitors into repeat guests is all about building relationships. But when it comes to today’s time-crunched, always-connected, experience-hungry traveler, the hospitality industry/guest relationship is best summarized in a two-word status update: “it’s complicated.”
Consumers want low-friction, high-access digital solutions like self check-in, keyless entry, smart rooms, etc. And in today’s economic landscape, the hospitality industry is eager to use automation as a way to meet those needs while cutting costs.8 For example, Hilton has been implementing a digital ecosystem that merges operations and service. Joshua Sloser, SVP, Digital explains, “The experience starts with allowing guests to select their room and use a digital key to enter a room they are able to personalize…everything from room temperature to content.9”
It all sounds wonderfully efficient and high-tech. And CMOs and CTOs are throwing money at technology, in hopes of finding the perfect formula for guest retention. In fact, between 2017 and 2018, the number of hotels with heavy tech budgets doubled.10 Technology is clearly part of the answer…but it isn’t the whole story.
As some early hospitality tech adopters start to show results, we’re seeing time and time again that guests don’t want technology for technology’s sake alone. They want technology that addresses needs, but that isn’t a substitute for human service. As a prime example, the world’s first robot hotel recently fired half of its android staff, admitting that it simply wasn’t working for guests.11
THE SECRET X FACTOR
It turns out, what’s missing from digital transformation is the type of authenticity that only comes from human connections. According to a recent Skift study, high maintenance, highly connected travelers want more humanity in travel.12 On paper, it makes no sense. Travelers increasingly want to be in control of their experiences, they want quick resolution, they want a digital experience that mimics their eco-system at home and at work. So what is it that real human connections are providing? That secret X factor is emotion.
According to PsychologyToday, emotions have far greater influence on customers than rational factors.13 It cuts both ways: if that new digital technology you’ve implemented throughout your hotel impacts guests in a positively emotional way, your brand will see the benefit. But if you’ve set your guests up for an experience that leaves them feeling disconnected — like insincere “welcome” text messages or in-room voice assistants that that offer more interruptions than help — then you’ve not only wasted money on technology, you’ve spent money to drive guests away.
When thinking about any new digital transformation initiative, the C-suite needs to put down their spreadsheets and turn up the empathy. For every single piece of technology, ask yourself, how will this experience make our guests feel? Although it may be uncomfortable to dive into this emotional territory, it is the secret X factor that will determine which brands win and lose at digital transformation.
THE FUTURE IS EXPERIENTIAL TRANSFORMATION
Taking the bold step in thinking about guests’ feelings will ultimately allow the hospitality industry to transition to a digital age where a full staff of humans might be missing, but humanity isn’t. Here are three examples of how brands can think about implementing experiential transformation — a digital transformation that includes the type of emotionally-impactful experiences your guests will love.
1. BE THERE WHEN NEEDED
According to a recent survey, quick problem resolution is by far the most important aspect of customer service for today’s consumers (82%).14 For tired travelers attempting to navigate to their rooms after a long flight, well-placed intuitive technology can make all the difference between getting to bed quickly and happily…and a long, frustrating walk back to the front desk to ask for directions. But deciphering a confusing wayfinding screen or downloading a clunky resort map app isn’t the answer. Your guests might be digital natives, but that doesn’t mean they want digital-only solutions. They crave authenticity and efficacy, and sometimes help from a real human is the best way to solve their problems.What if a QR wall graphic was there to immediately connect guests to a real, live concierge who could help them find their room? Technology, meet humanity.
2. PROMOTE FEEL-GOOD SHARING
In an age where content is king and consumers are much more likely to post negative feedback rather than positive,15 hoteliers must be proactive in their attempts to spark genuinely positive feedback online. Creating on-site selfie opportunities can encourage guests to share photos of your destination, but surprisingly, it doesn’t always lead to positive brand experiences. Recent studies have found that people are less confident, more anxious and feel less attractive after taking a selfie, and the vast majority of their followers would rather look at other types of pictures anyway.16 Creating that type of negative cognitive link with your brand is counterproductive when it comes to establishing affinity and loyalty. So instead, try this at check-in: promote truly positive sharing by surprising your guests with a personalized, digital postcard that is formatted for all their favorite social platforms. This worry-free, brag-worthy content gift will trigger the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, boosting their feelings of attraction and excitement.17 Now you’ve given that guest a great first experience AND a ridiculously simple way for them to promote your destination with gorgeous, professional photography. That’s a win-win check-in.
3. MAKE IT FEEL LIKE HOME
There are some ways hotels and resorts simply cannot compete with private rentals. But with technology and continually-evolving online entertainment platforms, the industry has a real opportunity to provide that “home away from home” experience. Imagine liberating your TV screens from the constraints of cable and timezones in order to connect with the guests on their own terms. For example, when a customer visits your lounge or restaurant, service personnel could tailor streaming content based on a guest’s favorite sports team or news program. With just a few clicks on their connected POS tablet, service personnel could use technology to cater to a guest’s entertainment preferences while sparking a real-life conversation. That’s the kind of digitally-assisted human experience that leads to lifelong brand loyalty.
Deloitte predicts that an economic slowdown looms and hospitality brands must prepare for a period of decreased demand. Customer experience initiatives are one important way hoteliers can stay relevant during a downturn.18 But they need to be emotionally-impactful to really make a difference. As the late Maya Angelou once said, “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Show your guests you care about their feelings. Design experiences based on positive emotional impact, and then figure out the technology to achieve them (not the other way around). That is the secret to successful transformation.
WANT TO USE EMOTION TO TRANSFORM YOUR GUEST EXPERIENCE?