Get Excited and Make Things: Lessons from the eat:Strategy conference

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This past Wednesday, Toronto creatives (and this blogger) welcomed the first eat:Strategy conference, a day-long event which combined minds from design, branding, research and psychology. Each speaker was given approximately 20 minutes to share their story and how their expertise is helping to shape and conceive better strategies for clients, ideas and brands across the world. What made this conference unique was the wide range of topics covered by the speakers, using everything from MasterCard, to iconic punk rock club CBGB, to HIV-infected women in Botswana as case studies.

Get Excited and Make ThingsOne of the event’s strongest and most engaging presentations was by Jason Lonsdale, Head of Planning at TAXI, who recently moved to Toronto from London, England, and talked about the UK ad culture and its comparisons to North America. According to Lonsdale, the UK ad culture currently follows the “Keep Calm and Carry On” mantra, with creatives working under the belief that they shouldn’t fight for great work when they’ve already got good work that their clients are willing to buy. Lonsdale suggested that creatives start making waves and take up a new slogan: “Get Excited and Make Things”. He explained that working in advertising is like “rugby not relay” — things don’t always go the way you planned, you have to be able to react to changes in the plan, and you have to know how to pass the ball and work together. One of Lonsdale’s closing remarks was on how you should decide on your brand promise. Comparing goals to Star Wars’ Chewbacca, Lonsdale says that you need a “big, hairy, audacious wookie” just like you need a “big, hairy, audacious goal”. If you don’t shoot for the impossible, you’ll never be great enough.

Another highlight of the day was Jon Lax, co-founder of Teehan + Lax, and his presentation on designing customer experiences in the digital channel. Lax gave the audience a good overview of how the way users consume content has moved from passive to active, and how digital is continuing to grow. He talked about how designers now need to think of the digital channel in terms of four different screens: desktop, mobile, connected TVs, and what we called “The Internet of Things” (referring to other devices that connect with the Internet, usually with RFID tags). The key shift for brands, according to Lax, is that they will need to begin doing medium planning, rather than media planning.

Cheesan Chew, VP-Partner at Idea Couture, closed out the day with a look at Botswana and the 1 in 4 citizens that are infected with HIV, the majority of whom are young women. Chew and her team at Idea Couture worked with communities in Botswana to find out why this epidemic is so strong there, and how they can fight it. At the end of her insightful talk, Chew addressed the fact that on the surface, her presentation didn’t seem to be related to design, the topic she was chosen to discuss. On the contrary, Chew pointed out that this case study proved that design is about empathy, about understanding that change is the only constant, and that, most of all, it’s about people.

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