A Midstream Milestone: Bonehook Is 10

Ten years ago this week, on my stepfather’s birthday, I registered the top level domain Bonehook.com. It was the first in a series of steps that led me to where I am today, 10 years into this entrepreneurial journey.

The experiences gained during this decade of advanced on-the-job learning has helped me mature as a business person and provided me a grander view of the marketing communications business.

Brand messaging specialists. Inquire at david@bonehook.com.

If it’s okay with you, I’d like to present some key findings from the first ten years, in the hope that it helps you on your own career path, whether you’re an intrapreneur or entrepreneur (and it seems like you need to be one or the other to thrive today).

In 2009, The Choice Was Adapt Or Perish (Sort of Like Now)

In the fall of 2008, the American economy was near collapse. This factor way beyond my control happened to overlap with our move from Hilton Head Island to Portland, and my departure from my awesome Content Director job at BFG Communications. During 2009, I met with lots of Portlanders in the ad biz and one agency principal said, “You have what it takes to be a creative director at several shops in town…now get in line.” This was my introduction to Portland’s version of “scarcity mindset.”

I didn’t know if the aforementioned “line” was six months long, or five years long. Ultimately, it didn’t matter because I was motivated to launch my own brand communications studio. What I needed was a client, and I found one in Bill Woolston, one of my closest friends and the president of Danville Services Corporation, headquartered in Salt Lake City. At the time, Bill was opening a children’s rehabilitation hospital in Tucson, which required the creation of a new identity package, website, brochures, signage, and a total makeover of the physical space which had previously been used as a retirement home.

Three Things I Learned Doing This Work, This Way

  1. Starting my own company and lifting it up from one client in Salt Lake City, to new clients in Portland, Denver, Omaha, Kansas City, Albuquerque, Austin, and Seattle required my full immersion into account service. There may be creative people in advertising who don’t want to hear this, but I’m a creative person in advertising who needs to say it: The ability to do great work is determined by the relationship with the client. No trust, no trophy.
  2. In the beginning, new business prospecting is a frog kissing contest. The mission, if you accept it, is to survive the first three-to-five years, because there will be clients who do not pay on time, or pay at all. There will be clients who see you as their hired hands, not their marketing minds. There will be clients who can’t be moved to a better place, no matter what you do, or how brilliantly you and the team show up. Here’s the good part: Without the pain of these experiences, it would be harder to fully appreciate the perks of working with clients who value what you bring to the table.
  3. Don’t waste too much time attempting to be or to become an expert in all things Marcom. Instead, focus on the one thing that you do better than everyone else, and then find the right markets for this singular offering. When Bonehook started with Danville, we had a lot of creative ground to cover and we needed to move fast. I’m also from an integrated marketing background where “land and expand” is a legitimate new business strategy, so the idea of juggling website builds with brand ID and content strategy, was fine by me. It mirrored the agency world I knew and came up in. As comfortable as that was, to grow Bonehook into the company that will be sustainable and profitable for years to come—the company I want to own and run—I had to pick a lane.

From Creative Outputs to Strategic Inputs

The simplest way to describe Bonehook’s metamorphosis is to say we’ve moved from a focus on creative outputs to strategic inputs.

Our clients seek us out because they need a detailed and trustworthy brand messaging roadmap. We all agree that strategic inputs determine creative outputs and that the brand’s job today is to provide a rich canvas for the community to make meaning. We also believe that modern brands are facilitators for their customer’s hopes and dreams. And we know that’s not something that the broadcast model is well suited to address, which is where content strategy and a deep focus on brand experience come in.

Today’s customers tend to ask the same thing every customer throughout history has asked…”What’s in it for me?” The next level question is, “How will this brand empower me?” Also, “What does joining this brand’s ‘community’ do/mean for my identity?”

I’m Pleased To Meet You!

After years of working to make Bonehook a more perfect provider, a company focused on the one thing we do best—improving your brand messaging—some things remain the same. My reliance on my network, for leads and recommendations, for instance.

Small agency consultants will tell you that a narrow focus for the firm helps to grease the new business wheels, and I agree. People need to know what the offer is and why it matters to them. The question to ask is which people? In a specialized firm, the last thing you want is a broad appeal to potential clients. A narrow focus helps clarify the offering and makes it easier for people in your network to hire you and recommend you.

It’s true that you can use Facebook and LinkedIn to “target” your key audiences, and work your cold leads funnel. I’ve tried it and I don’t see that as a particularly fruitful pursuit. We have new tools today, but people are people and we do business with people we know, like, and trust. You can spin the Internet wheel all day, or you can make friends. I know which one works for me and my company.

Strategic Inputs Determine Creative Outputs and Business Results

Strategy Before Execution and Concepts Before Copy

For 10 years, Bonehook has been in the advertising delivery business. Our focus has been making the best print ads, websites, social media updates, email newsletters, live events, videos, webinars and brand identity packages possible for our host of clients.

Last year, we moved from Portland, Oregon to Austin, Texas and the shift was more than geographic. Our pivot included much digging and soul-of-the-business searching. We sought to remake the company for the present day and the near future, as far as we can determine it. What follows is a description of the changes we made to our business model.

We share our clients’ burning desire to connect with the people in their audience and move them to care and to buy. How we get there is always the question, and this is where agencies, large and small, fall back on their “patented process” shuck and jive. It’s embarrassing. We know better and we hope you do too. There’s no need for a patented process, but there is a pressing need for a process that improves the work and the business results that come from it.

Strategic Mapping and the Growing Need for Brand Cartography

Clients come to us with a desire for certain outputs and often with built-in assumptions about how to get there. For instance, a client might say, “We need a new website to attract new prospects.” Nine out of ten agencies will begin to determine the scope of work and what it will all cost, without pausing to consider the best way to attract new prospects, which is the client’s real and stated wish.

Bonehook is the outlier. We know what work we need to do to help, how long it takes, and exactly what it costs. As the strategic counselor that helps your team do the heavy lifting necessary to get the brand on the right track before any creative execution happens, you can rely on Bonehook to set the compass to true north. Without this calibration, you’re going to need an innate sense of direction and lots of good fortune. Wouldn’t you rather work with us to make a detailed and trustworthy brand messaging roadmap?

Gimme Three Steps…

Anyone who works in media, marketing or advertising today knows just how hard it is to get a message heard, much less getting it to go viral. So much media is mental pollution and the American public is huffing it all day and night long. Brands can add to this distortion and noise, get buried by it, or rise above it. We hope you are in the “rise above” camp because we can’t help you if you’re not.

Brand Messaging Assessments

This is the entry point on your journey to better messaging. You provide us a prescribed list of your existing brand materials and we carefully weigh the impact, or lack thereof, from a messaging perspective. You get raw feedback from an unbiased outside source and walk away with a report that looks closely at your brand voice and offers actionable suggestions to strengthen it.

Brand Messaging Workshops

Do you value having a teacher/coach in the room to help your team grapple with difficult brand messaging concepts? Do you believe in doing what it takes to help your team acquire the skills they need to reach your customers, who may or may not care what you want or what you say, no matter how awesome it seems to you? Our live one- and two-day workshops inform and entertain while growing your team’s messaging muscles.

Discovery and Strategy Sessions

Everyone’s in a hurry to close. That’s the pressure of the modern digital moment. Quarterly numbers have to be met, or else. In this hostile environment, how can we possibly ask you to slow down and spend four to six weeks preparing for victory? The answer is simple. We want you to win. And to win you first must train, just like any professional athlete or team does in its pre-season.

We know you have big ideas and even grander ambitions for your brand. We’ll help you get there by asking you to pause and dutifully prepare now. It’s the step that champions in all fields do not skip. I’d like to repeat, we want you to win. Our gift to you is magnified vision and a sensitive ear.

Are you ready to book a call with David? See his schedule now.

Smart Copywriting Is Poetry With A Pitch

The best poets magically fit an entire world into a single poem.

When you read “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg, “Byzantium” by William Butler Yeats, and “Still I Rise,” by Maya Angelou, you’re set adrift in poetic wonderland. These poems are universal and timeless, and all employ an incredible economy of artful language.

The unpurged images of day recede;
The Emperor’s drunken soldiery are abed;
Night resonance recedes, night-walkers’ song
After great cathedral gong;
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.

-Opening stanza of “Byzantium,” by William Butler Yeats

The western mind wants to figure poetry out. That’s not the point of poetry. Let the language wash over you. Let it take you to a place of redemption and remind you of your connections to all living and loving things.

Poetry is the singular pursuit by a playful wordsmith.

Poets, unlike copywriters, screenwriters, and journalists, don’t have anything to sell. Poets have their point of view to convey, and no clients or anxious team members looking over their shoulders.

Also, poetry is not a capitalized asset and this frees poetry to be something above and beyond the purely commercial. How rare is that today?

What’s a Copywriter, Anyway?

When you meet someone outside the ad industry and mention that you are a copywriter, it can be like saying you a forensic pathologist. Curious, but not wanting to appear uninformed, the listener may nod politely and change the subject.

I’ve also had people ask me if I worked at a law firm in the copyrights division. It’s a fair question, but no, copywriters have nothing to do with protecting intellectual property. If we’re any good at what we do, we build brand value every time, and from time to time when conditions are ideal, we help make our clients rich and famous.

There are at least a handful of identifiable types of copywriters, which further muddies the waters.

Direct marketing copywriters are all about following the formula and playing it by numbers. It’s an exact science to them.

The social media manager, on the other hand, jumps in a seies of fast-moving social streams each morning and rides memes and trending topics all day.

Then, there’s the classic advertising copywriter who is all about the idea and how it will play out on every size screen.

Copywriting Illuminated

The art and science of copywriting (in all its forms) is not something that practitioners learn to master in an online course or in a one-day workshop.

Copywriting is like writing poems, songs or essays–when you’re serious, you spend years learning from the masters and you diligently practice the craft every day. In other words, you don’t dabble in copywriting and find success.

You let it consume you like a fire.

You sit bolt upright in the night with the answer to the copy riddle.

You learn to become your own toughest critic.

You learn not to waste words.

5 Copywriting Tips You Can Bank On

  • Don’t make outrageous claims that you can’t back up
  • Care more about the reader/viewer than you do about anything or anyone else
  • Overly clever wordplay draws attention to itself, not to the customer solution embedded in the product or service
  • Discovery before strategy and concepts before execution #pencilsdown
  • Bring poetic language and narrative technique to the client’s communications problems

Any questions? Pick up the phone!

IN RELATED NEWS: I write poetry and invite you to give this new poem, “Maria from Monterey,” a read.