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Everyone Needs a Red Team

I’m a big Aaron Sorkin fan. You probably remember him from great shows like Sports Night and The West Wing, and as the screenwriter for The Social Network, Moneyball, and Steve Jobs.

And then there was that one time he did a “walk and talk” with Liz Lemon on an episode of 30 Rock (“Wait, did we just walk in a circle?”).

I recently caught up with another of his shows — The Newsroom — starring Jeff Daniels as network news anchor, Will McAvoy.

Throughout the second season we follow the reporting team as they investigate a big story. It entails all the usual drama, conflict, and a twist. As the project shows hints of going sideways, someone suggests to MacKenzie, the senior producer, that she get McAvoy involved.

“No,” she says. “I need him for the Red Team.”

Of course, this is where the comment is left — dangling. This is how Aaron Sorkin writes. He wants me to shout at the tv screen, “WHAT THE HECK IS A RED TEAM?”

So I did a little research, and it turns out that a Red Team refers to a group of people with no prior knowledge of the story who approach it with skepticism and an intent to challenge its assumptions.

Wikipedia defines it as “an independent group that challenges an organization to improve its effectiveness.”

In military training, the Red Team is the opposing force sent in to test a unit’s readiness for battle. In digital security, the Red Team is the hacker hired to test an organization’s security strength.

Red Team Jen

In your business, I’m the Red Team who looks at your story with fresh eyes. I test your assumptions and poke holes in your jargon. I ask hard questions and play the skeptic. I challenge your love for the product to make sure you’re not just going through the motions.

In other words, I don’t just produce a video for you. I make your story bulletproof.

Don’t fall into the trap of writing your own script or producing your video in-house. You might think this saves you money, but without a Red Team to challenge your internal perspective, your story runs the risk of confusing your customers.

Whether you sell a product, provide a service, sell to consumers or businesses, or just have a Great Idea to explain, we work together as storytellers (that’s us!) and content experts (that’s you!) to make your brand stand out against the competition.

Have a project in mind? Get in touch.

So You Have a Great Idea… What Now?

Great Idea What Now

I love what I do. I get to meet great people, learn about great products and ideas, and then I get to help other people fall in love with those products and ideas.

When we take on a project, we assume you also love what you do, and that you’re just as excited about what you’re putting out into the world.

That’s why we’ll be great together.

Whether you sell a product, provide a service, sell to consumers or businesses, or just have a Big Idea to explain, we work together as storytellers (that’s us!) and content experts (that’s you!) to clearly explain what problem you solve for your customers.

But first, you have to tell us about that great idea…

Things I Do When I Should Be Writing

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  • Eat a snack.
  • Organize MailChimp lists.
  • Write long and thoughtful Facebook comments on posts that are three months old.
  • Go through all our Asana projects and come up with GREAT IDEAS for how other people should get their work done.
  • Eat a snack.
  • Pluck my chin whiskers. Variations on this include: filing my nails, clipping hang nails, and Googling eye shadow tutorials.
  • Declutter my desk.
  • Eat a snack.
  • Mark a bunch of Asana tasks complete to see how many unicorns I get.
  • Write a GREAT post… for my personal blog.
  • Oh look! It’s lunchtime!

Oh, but I’ve TRICKED you! These aren’t distractions, but participants in the mystery of creative inspiration and the writing process.

Jack Donaghy calls it The Shower Principal.

Dennis Palumbo — a Hollywood screenwriter turned psychotherapist — writes about this phenomenon in his book, Writing From the Inside Out, and in this article, In Praise of Goofing Off.

It’s during activities like the ones above that allow our thoughts to “percolate” or “simmer,” as he puts it, which is just as necessary as actually writing. “Think of it this way,” he writes. “You’re not watching the entire first season of Mad Men merely to avoid working. Rather, you’re allowing the part of your brain that creates to labor away unconsciously, filtering and sorting, selecting and discarding.”

I often forget this in the middle of a constipated effort to create something out of nothing. But the moment I throw back my chair in frustration and find something else to do, inspiration comes.

For this reason, I agree wholeheartedly with Palumbo when he says, “The creative process is goddamned mysterious.”

Our Latest Work: Robi & the Flickr Hoodie for We Make Seattle

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You know how Pixar always shows an animated short right before its feature film?

We just did that! Not for Pixar, though. Sorry, was that misleading?

For the last few months, I participated in an exciting local project called We Make Seattle, which began as a Kickstarter campaign to fund a short film for and about Seattle’s vibrant start-up and maker community.

Many stories about Seattle were collected for the film, but not all of them made it into the final cut. One of those stories came from Robi Ganguly, the CEO and Co-Founder of Apptentive.

Producer Bryan Zug had this to say on the We Make Seattle blog:

Robi told a story about what it was like to wear a hoodie around Seattle that he had gotten from the Flickr team – A story that really captures what makes Seattle such a welcoming place for people who make awesome things.

We were asked to capture his story via animation as a surprise bonus for the backers and friends of We Make Seattle, and it premiered at the event last week just before main film.

More on the event and Robi’s reaction after the video embedded below (or click here to watch on YouTube).

The We Make Seattle team promised Robi a surprise, but he had no idea he was animated until we revealed the video.

As someone who’s been animated for a video before (more on that another day), it’s pretty fun to hear your voice and see a cartoon version of yourself on the big screen.

I think he was into it:

Robi, left, capturing the premier on video.

Actual Robi, left, snapping a shot of Animated Robi at the We Make Seattle world premier.

It’s rare that we get to witness the drama around the release of our projects, so this was a special treat for us. Usually I get excited emails with a few exclamation points, and I consider it a job well done.

But to be in the room when a project is revealed, to feel the reaction from the audience and experience it with a crowd for the first time — that made me a little verklempt!

Many thanks to my very talented co-founder, Andrew Imamura, for creating Illustrated Robi, and to our amazing animator, Aaron Bishop (pictured below, with Robi) for bringing him to life.

"I've been listening to your voice for a long time," said Aaron Bishop, right, upon meeting Actual Robi.

“I’ve been listening to your voice for a long time,” said Aaron Bishop — animator at What Now? Exactly! — right, upon meeting Actual Robi.

You Know You Need a Video…What Now?

These days, anyone with a laptop and access to the right software can make an animated video. You can even make your own video using online DIY apps!

Choosing someone to make your animated video can feel as overwhelming as standing in the toothpaste aisle — which one is right for you?

I’ll give you a hint. What you’re looking for is:

  • A video that works
  • for the right price
  • by someone who gets you.

Creating an effective sales video should be treated as an investment, and like any investment, you want to assess the risk, value, and relationship.

Joining a Virtual Office Hours session is your first step in assessing all three of those variables.

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During this live video chat between you, me, and three others just like you, we’ll cover four things:

  • What challenges you face when explaining what you do.
  • How we help you overcome those challenges through clear and engaging video content.
  • Our process, pricing, and how to get started.
  • Any questions you might have.

By the end of our chat, you’ll have a clear understanding of how we can help you, what we charge, and if we’re a good fit for working together (which matters more than you might think).

If you’re considering animated video content to explain your product, service, or Big Idea, join our next virtual office hours and get your questions answered.

Several dates currently available — SIGN UP by completing the form below.

Three Reasons Your Animated Video Makes a Great Wingman

In person networking is not one of my favorite things. When introducing myself at events around town, I’ll often go into awkward Clark Kent mode and say something mild mannered like, “Hi, I’m Jen Zug. I write and produce animated videos.”

*pushes up glasses*

But when I attend events with Bryan, who’s my husband, business partner, and biggest fan, a whole other thing happens.

“Have you met my wife?” he’ll say. “She’s a great writer and can distill your Big Ideas down into a concise animated video! You should hire her for that project we talked about last week.”

He’s a great networking wingman!

Your video can be a great wingman, too, because it speaks for you anytime, anywhere — so make sure it’s an effective wingman by accomplishing these three things:

your video should

1) Clearly solve a problem for your customers.

This is the number one thing your video should do. Even if you only have fifteen seconds on Instagram, use the time to solve a problem.

The person watching your video has an In Real Life problem that sent them to Google looking for answers, and they ended up here, on your site, watching your video.

Make that person feel relief because they finally found someone who can help.

2) Set yourself apart from the competition.

Very few products or services lack competition, so you need to stand out like a Seahawks fan at a 49ers game. Do you know what makes you different from everyone else in the stadium?

Many years ago, FedEx set themselves apart from other shipping companies by guaranteeing next day delivery. When next day delivery became the industry standard, they introduced package tracking.

Define what your Secret Sauce is, and make sure your video calls it out.

3) Call the viewer to action.

And finally, your video should tell me what to do next. How can I buy, sign up, learn more, or get started?

Don’t just tell me how to contact you. Why would I want to do that? Are you going to buy me a margarita? Tell me a joke? I’m confused by this relationship already and we haven’t even gotten to first base.

Be clear about your intentions and invite your customers to take the next step.

Don’t invest time and money into a video that doesn’t work hard for you. Make sure it solves a problem, sets you apart, and calls the viewer to action.

Character Design

Just a little something-something for an upcoming project.

 

That One Thing Preventing Your Business From Growing (and it’s not what you think!)**

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Over the last couple years I’ve really struggled with an identity crisis as a small business owner.

When it comes to my client work and what I do for other people, I’m super confident, but I’ve been unable to do for myself what I do for other people. I doubt and second guess myself all the time, and I know that it hinders growth.

Part of my identity crisis has played out on this blog. In the past I tried to write in a cut and dried, business-y, authoritative voice using appropriate keywords and link bait titles such as 3 Ways to Improve Your Story.

But writing those posts made me feel fake and distant from my work, because when I talk to my clients, I don’t say things like, “HERE ARE 3 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR STORY: FIRST, throw out all the marketing advice you’ve ever heard! SECOND, listen to everything I say! THIRD, I always come up with a third thing, because titles with 3 things always get the clicks!”

Yet, that’s how EVERYBODY writes copy these days, and that’s how I was being advised to write in order to position myself as a “thought leader” (a buzz word I’d love to punch in the face).

At the same time, we were struggling to land the type of client that would let me write in a voice that was captivating to audiences in every other medium in which I write — relatable and conversational.

One day my friend and colleague knocked me over the head via our Slack channel and said, “QUIT OVERTHINKING IT. Just be who you are in all your content, and the right clients will follow” (my paraphrase).

So we relaunched the blog and I started writing like a person and not a robot.

And let’s be honest: this blog isn’t going to close any deals, anyway, so I might as well be myself and have fun with it.

** (see what I did there?)

*poof*

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I’m pretty frustrated.

As I was walking to the coffee shop I’m sitting at now, I came up with a great idea for a blog post. When I got here, I paid for my lunch, got settled at my table, ate, and then — POOF! — my idea was gone like Kaiser Sozé.

Do I really have to stop in my tracks while it’s raining to write these ideas down EXACTLY when they come to me?! I thought I’d be fine until I could at least get out of the rain, but apparently my memories drift away fast.

I remember where I was when I thought of it, too — coming up the hill, just about to turn right. And I was excited about the idea because it made me sound more business-y and market-y than — well, than this post, for instance.

So here I sit, trying to reconstruct my idea.

Redefining Balance

A couple weeks ago was the Autumnal Equinox, and I happened to be at yoga that night when I had a DUH moment.

On the Equinox, daylight and darkness are nearly equal. The Universe doesn’t achieve balance for a season or a year or a lifetime — just on that one day.

Do you know what this means?!

Balance isn’t a lifestyle

Even the Universe can’t maintain balance for more that 24 hours, so why do we — and I’m speaking mostly to my fellow lady friends — why do we work so hard to live a life of balance? Wouldn’t it be healthier to find contentment in the lopsided reality of the world around us?

I personally have a hard time seeing beyond the chaos I’m in right now. It’s always going to be this way! I whine. But it’s not always going to be this way. Yes, maybe life is a little lopsided right now, but in just a little while the world will tilt into balance, and I’ll find relief until it tilts out of balance again.

It’s a rhythm I can count on when times are desperate and I need a little hope.

Balance is a signal of change, not an example of permanence.

When we hit the Equinox, we can’t hang on to those long, wandering days anymore. Fall brings back a natural rhythm to our lives, and we need to leave the carefree days behind us. But then, just as we’re despairing that Winter will never end, the Spring Equinox tilts us back into those carefree wandering days of summer again.

When I feel overwhelmed, it’s usually because I’m doing too much. And I’m trying to do too much because I want to hang on to everything. But the momentary balance of Equinox encourages me to let go of something for a season so I can embrace whatever the new season has for me.

And based on my experience, those things I let go of usually pop up again in a season yet to come.

The {New} New Year

I’ve always thought of Fall as the real New Year. My kids are back in school, my clients are back from their summer time off, and I start setting goals and routines into place for the coming season, both personally and professionally.

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This week I had to make a list of Things That Are Stressing Me Out Right Now. My brain was filled with worry and conflicting priorities, so I wrote it all down in hopes that the piece of paper would carry my worries away.

Unfortunately, my paper was not a magical problem solver, but at least I was able to see clearly that I was hanging on to too much and that maybe it’s time to make a change.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by All The Things, maybe it’s time to let go of the balance fantasy and embrace the tilt. Thoughts?