We’re Hunter Gatherers Who Fish for Our Dinners

Bonehook is the brand messaging specialist for people-positive companies, campaigns, and causes.

When I was growing up, my grandpa and I loved to go fishing together. It turns out, fishing teaches a kid important lessons. The importance of preparation, the need for patience, skill, and respect for all living things—these are all part of the fishing experience.

I used to watch my grandpa, Eldon Burn, pull in one fish after the next, while my line was mostly inactive and often picked clean without my knowledge. I did not relish these moments of not catching, but looking back I can see the lessons.

Abundance was all around us. Fish were everywhere under the boat. But I couldn’t sense them or catch them until I got in touch with the environment, the tackle, the bait (minnow and worms), the boat, the lake, the weather, the fish, my grandpa’s war stories, all of it.

Give your team a fighting chance, consult with the local outfitter and guide.

When brand teams prepare for an expedition into customer waters today, there’s a real need for maps, tidal reports and weather conditions, plus all the right gear, the right bait, the right boat, a trusted captain and a dedicated crew.

Bonehook is the brand messaging outfitter for these customer-seeking teams. Teams who prepare before they head out. In specific terms, we provide the strategic insights, go-to-market plans, and latest tools that clients need to survive and eventually thrive. 

Here, put this worm on.

Worms are nasty and threading a hook through their wormy body is gross. But that’s how you catch fish. Likewise, there are aspects to working in brand marketing that are tough to handle, like hearing from customers and prospective customers that the product or service in question doesn’t live up to the claims being made in the advertising. 

Cognitive dissonance is never good. In marketing communications, it’s an unnatural disaster. A brand’s message can’t just be quirky, or clever, or smart today. The messaging has to make perfect sense in the real world, or whatever claims the company makes will be instantly rejected, or worse, ridiculed by volunteer members of a snarky, social-media empowered public. 

Now cast your line…

When you’re fishing the right spot at the right time of day with the right bait, there will be times when time stands still. Times when it seems that nothing at all is happening. A new level of patience is needed. Fish don’t care about your career or your company’s key performance indicators. Fish care about eating. 

Once you understand that smart marketing is all about placing something of value, something easily consumable, in front of an audience that you care about and understand deeply, the fish will bite. This is where most marketers go wrong…they believe that what the brand wants/needs to say is the valued, consumable thing, a.k.a. the shimmering lure. Wrong! We’re fishing with live bait.  

For sport or for sustenance? 

There are all kinds of anglers in the world. For some, it’s an expensive sport with elaborate gear. For others, it’s a nice way to spend a summer morning along the shore of a river of lake—when the hatchery trout cooperate, all the better. 

Bonehook clients enjoy the pursuit, strategic planning, and the skill that makes fishing fruitful. That’s a bonus because in marketing we either feed ourselves and our tribes, or we go hungry. Therefore, our work with clients is all about creating sustainable fisheries that will feed future generations. You can’t do this with trickery or short cuts.

Brands that are built to last are crafted carefully, hand-to-hand, in the wild.

Give Bonehook a call if that is what you’re after.

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.