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Nick Dwyer

Nick wanted to be a cartographer as a kid. These days he helps clients chart a course through choppy information and land on clear narratives. Still an adventurer at heart, he’s equally willing to explore the jungles of the Congo or the depths of messaging and positioning frameworks.  

Sr Consultant | LinkedIn

11/18/2019

Elevating Stories #2: Malaka Gharib

By: Nick Dwyer

Elevating Stories—Malaka Gharib

Malaka Gharib makes sense of a complicated world by making art. As a journalist, zine-maker, and graphic novelist, Malaka is in her element writing and illustrating her unique perspective of the world around her. We had the pleasure of learning about her creative approach to storytelling in the latest edition of Elevating Stories–a series of talks with authors, experts, and creators held at 2A.  

Malaka traveled to Seattle from her home of Washington, D.C. to present at the Short Run Comix and Arts Festival, the city’s preeminent convention on alternative comics and handmade books of all kinds. In addition to the festival and speaking at 2A, she also used her trip to promote her new graphic memoir about growing up as a first-generation Egyptian-Filipino American, I Was Their American Dream. In an authentic conversation, Malaka revealed these lessons she’s learned from finding her creative identity and professionally publishing her first book.

You can’t always depend on your day job to be a creative outlet

After graduating from college as a magazine journalism major during the 2008 financial crisis, Malaka realized that she couldn’t rely on her 9-to-5 job for creative expression. So she figured out how to do it in her free time. By carving out time to write and draw on her own accord, she made zines and art that truly satisfied her own personal agenda.

Making art helps us persevere

As the child of Egyptian and Filipino immigrants, Malaka struggled to make sense of her personal identity growing up. She learned as a teenager that following creative pursuits could help her understand and celebrate her uncommon background. After Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric helped him become president, Malaka knew she had to write a book about her upbringing that served a counter argument. Self-expression enables catharsis, and Malaka was able to cope with the state of the world by taking on the biggest creative project of her life. 

Zines can be storytelling building blocks

Zines are self-published magazines that don’t follow print conventions, which makes them flexible tools for storytelling especially suited to people tight on time like Malaka. To quickly get her creative energy out, Malaka’s made a habit of creating mini comic zines from a single sheet of paper during idle moments. When she faced the daunting task of creating a 160-page graphic novel, Malaka structured it as a compilation of eight zines. By breaking the novel into familiar subcomponents, she was able to control her focus and organization. 

Collaborate, but don’t compromise your vision

Writing and illustrating your first novel is inherently a learning process. And for someone used to the DIY nature of zines, working with dozens of book agents, publishers, designers, and editors made for a dizzying experience. More than 60 people contributed to the creation of her book, and their guidance was sometimes in conflict. At one point, her work-in-progress novel was a problem she just wanted to throw money at to fix. But after taking command of her vision, she put the right stakeholders in place to get the best version of her book across the finish line.

 

To the uninformed, writing a book sounds romantic. However, Malaka’s uncensored depiction of writing and drawing a graphic memoir took us behind the curtain to understand how messy the creative process can be. She candidly shared obstacles in her journey as a storyteller, but also proved that creating something that beautifully captures your perspective is worth the struggle.

05/22/2019

In gorilla marketing, life’s a jungle

By: Nick Dwyer

Gorilla marketing

Clutching his AK-47, the lead ranger motioned for us to stop. We froze in silence as another ranger slashed a path through the dense jungle with a machete. Finally, it was time. After seven hours of bushwhacking, covered in mud and soaked in rain, my wife and I came face to face with a family of wild mountain gorillas in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Hiking to see the few remaining wild mountain gorillas is fortunately very regulated, and my one-day gorilla trekking permit set me back $600. This didn’t include airfare, lodging, and all the other costs associated with traveling to rural Uganda. Expensive, but less than half of the $1,500 that Rwanda charges for an equivalent permit in a neighboring forest just over the border.

So why the big price difference? The answer lies in marketing. Infamous for the horrific Rwandan genocide in 1994, Rwanda is making big moves to transform its image into a stronger and more stable nation. The country completely banned plastic bags in 2008 and requires all citizens to clean up public spaces once a month. It’s working—cities are clean, infrastructure is strong, and traffic is orderly. Police officers stand along every major street, contributing to a sense of stability but also state control.

These characteristics and policies, all unusual for Sub-Saharan Africa, are designed in part to make outsiders notice. Aspiring to become a high-income country by 2050, Rwanda is making marketing decisions to appeal to more high-end investors and tourists. They know that price can be an indicator of perceived value and are betting higher prices will make their gorilla treks more sought after. While the price for a gorilla trek in Rwanda was too rich for my blood, so far the strategy is working: when celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Natalie Portman went to Africa to see wild gorillas, they went to Rwanda. Tactics like these have helped the land of a thousand hills become one of the Africa’s fastest growing economies.  

While my experience merely scratches the surface of a complex country still rife with issues, I’ve realized that you can learn about almost anything by analyzing it through a marketing lens—including the marketplace for wild gorilla treks. Even when I am on vacation, I’m still a marketing consultant.

Need a fresh perspective on your 800-pound marketing problem? Reach us at contact@2A.consulting.

11/14/2018

An Alaskan Way Viaduct elegy

By: Nick Dwyer

Alaskan Way Viaduct

Before we settled in for a half hour of Home Improvement or ER, my family watched KING 5 or KOMO 4 local news most evenings of my childhood. This is where I learned of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. There were occasional reports on its questionable safety even before the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake, which caused further damage and necessitated emergency repairs. But it wasn’t just deemed unsafe. It’s also a noisy eyesore that split downtown Seattle from its vibrant waterfront. Like the Kingdome, the Viaduct became a local beacon of bad architecture. And like the Kingdome, it clearly needed to be torn down. So now that the end is near, why am I sad to see it go?

The answer has a lot to do with the power of nostalgia. I witness this power not just in my own personal life, but in my life as a marketer at 2A. When companies share ideas or stories from the past, they link their brand with the idea of familiarity. In a world that now changes faster than ever, familiarity can evoke powerful feelings of security, comfort, and trust.

Nostalgia is so powerful that even tech companies, who constantly preach a future of innovation and disruption in their messaging, call on it from time to time. For instance, I recently created a customer presentation for Microsoft that leveraged several quotes from Bill Gates’ book, Business @ the Speed of Thought. Never mind that Bill wrote it in 1999 and hasn’t run the company for years. It still resonated with the audience and made them feel good about the Microsoft of today.

For me, the Alaskan Way Viaduct serves as a marketing device for Old Seattle. It gives me that childhood feeling of the good old days—regardless if those times were actually better. It acts as an antidote to my adult anxieties about the rising cost of living or seeing Seattle transform into Amazon’s corporate campus. Nostalgia is obviously powerful stuff, but it’s important to remember that it’s more about feelings than facts. As both a marketer and a consumer, we must be thoughtful about employing nostalgia and recognize when it clouds our judgement.

This all illustrates a greater truth: for humans, change is hard yet necessary for progress. So with that said, goodbye Viaduct. Thanks for the great views of Elliot Bay and speedy, toll-free trips to the airport. Now let’s toss the rose-colored glasses and look forward to the greater good.

04/04/2018

Reversing roles to become the client

By: Nick Dwyer

Reversing roles

Empathy isn’t a word you hear a lot in business. We’re led to believe that business can be cutthroat, and success comes from relentlessly pursuing your goals without much concern for others.

Well, we disagree. Empathy in the business world is about understanding people and the marketplace around them, which is often the difference between success and failure. Good consultants empathize with clients. It’s a practice we take to heart, and something we experienced firsthand recently with a little role reversal.

The tables were turned when we worked with students through the MBA Applied Strategy program at UW’s Foster School of Business, which links students to consulting projects from local businesses. MBA students apply coursework to real-life business challenges, and sponsor companies benefit from an outside perspective with fresh skills.

We had the ideal real-life project. A friend of 2A is working on creating an eSports business, and we’ve been providing some marketing support to get his idea off the ground. We’ve had exposure to eSports through projects with Xbox and ASTRO Gaming, but an external group could test our assumptions and uncover research. After nine weeks our MBA team delivered a professional presentation that improved our understanding of the industry, but we learned even more from serving as the client.

My biggest takeaway from this role reversal is that we assume clients have lots of control, but in fact they may not. Even a dream client cannot control unforeseeable circumstances like new information or business strategies. This experience also reaffirmed that clients are very busy, and that managing your own job while working with consultants can feel like double duty.

There is no magic bullet to solve these challenges, but effective and efficient communication helps greatly. It can help us understand clients, save their time, and respond with work that better fits their needs. Focusing on empathy can make all the difference, and the right communication can be the vehicle to satisfying clients.

12/20/2017

Holiday lessons from wild and dangerous animals

By: Nick Dwyer

Holiday lessons from wild and dangerous animals

There’s a chill in the air and our streets are congested with merry partygoers and delivery vans. Holiday season is upon us in Seattle, yet just a couple weeks ago I found myself in the antithesis of a PNW December. I was in the middle of an endless savannah beneath a blue sky, everything baked by the scorching sun.

I was on safari with my wife in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. We came to see and photograph amazing wildlife, but walked away with lessons to take into the holiday season.

 

1. Recharge

I learned that most of the time, wild animals are lazy. But tracking down a gazelle takes lots of effort, so they need to rest up. Life gets busy in the holidays, with demanding social schedules, travel, and end-of-year work deadlines. Make sure you have enough energy to hunt down the gazelles in your life by taking some time to yourself.

 

2. Coexist and connect

When you watch Nat Geo specials, it seems like wild animals are always at war with each other. So I was surprised by the intermingling of many animals on the Serengeti. It was sometimes hard to capture a photo with only one species, as seen above. I’m not suggesting you befriend wolves, but rather embrace the diversity of the human experience. Help debunk ‘the war on Christmas’ by accepting that others celebrate the holidays differently. Or better yet, volunteer for strangers less fortunate than you.

 

3. Simplify

If there is one thing that wild animals can teach us, it’s probably that you don’t need as much stuff as you think you do. Donate old clothes and toys to those who need it more. Simplify your gift giving, or give experiences rather than things. Less time shopping for holiday gifts means less holiday stress.

 

4. Be grateful

This is a python and an African hare. I didn’t travel to the other side of the world to see a snake eat a bunny, but this was a very rare encounter to witness. It was the one thing our guide had never seen before. We were lucky to see it, but didn’t recognize it at the time. Life is like that sometimes. The holidays are a good time to recognize the flukiness of life and be grateful for friends and family.

My long, life-changing vacation reminds me to be grateful for paid time off. As I reflect on my trip and impeding holidays, I recall one of the sayings here at 2A: “Great work requires being well.” I feel lucky to work at a place that didn’t just tolerate my big trip, but fully encouraged it. As I look forward to the new year, I’m thankful for 2A and all the lessons I learned here in 2017. Here’s to unearthing more lessons and delivering great work in 2018.

04/12/2017

Are symbols taking over the world?

By: Nick Dwyer

Icons

Regrettably, I opened up the box and surveyed its contents. Inside was everything Ikea claimed I needed to build a chest of drawers with an unpronounceable Scandinavian name. I thumbed through the 40 pages of instructions, dumbfounded by one thing: the immense void of text. In its place were occasionally humorous diagrams and symbols guiding the way to home-built furniture.

Ikea isn’t alone. It seems everywhere you look, symbols are replacing words. My recycling bin no longer says “Recycle” on it anywhere. Computer operating systems and apps feature less text with each update. And at 2A, we use countless symbols to accentuate key information for our clients.

The greatest example of symbol encroachment is the emoji. Basic emoticons made with punctuation marks gave way to more pictorial and vibrant emojis. Originating on Japanese cell phones in the 1990s, emojis exploded after their inclusion on Apple and Android smart phones. But they’re not just for text messages. Chevrolet wrote a real press release only in emojis, and an online bank developed an emoji-only passcode system. There’s even an upcoming animated film called The Emoji Movie with Patrick Stewart voicing everybody’s favorite. Symbols like emojis change how we communicate, but are they killing language? 

Before cursing the proliferation of symbols, it’s important to consider their value. In the case of Ikea and many other uses, symbols transcend written languages. They explain concepts without the need for painstaking translation. Their universality is their key strength.

Fixated on the possibility of universally intelligible written communication, people throughout history have tried to make written languages out of pictogram symbols. These forms of communication, called pasigraphies, were often meant to facilitate communication across traditional language barriers. 17th century British philosopher John Wilkins introduced a pasigraphy called Real Character, which was considered brilliant yet hopeless and never became more than theory. Impressed by the symbols used in the periodic table, chemical engineer Charles Bliss developed a symbol-based writing system called Blissymbols in the 1940s. While Blissymbols became a method to teach disabled people to communicate, it never enjoyed widespread usage.

Pasigraphies never caught on in part because as constructed languages, they did not evolve in practice like natural languages. Natural languages evolve to become relatively easy to use and learn. Further, their written forms benefit from the flexibility and distinction of their verbal roots. In contrast, symbols may hold very different meanings. A lightbulb icon may represent an invention, a good idea, intelligence, or just brightness. Unfortunately for pasigraphies, ambiguity is not a good trait for a written language.

Yes, symbols have growing value in a shrinking world, but English majors shouldn’t fret. They can help you assemble furniture or Legos, but they aren’t built to merge together to create complex ideas the way the written word can. They play an increasingly important role in visual communication, but remain dependent on language for context and detail. When you’re telling your next story, make sure language retains the starring role.

12/07/2016

Eating oysters and recruiting pearls

By: Nick Dwyer

2A Meet the Firm

One of my favorite things about 2A is its sense of place. We like serving local clients, have a lot of love for our neighborhood, and enjoy eating local food. We also really like hiring local talent – so much so that more than half our team are alumni of the University of Washington.

The vast majority of our UW alumni are graduates of the MBA program at the Foster School of Business, so it should come as no surprise that Foster is our favorite place to recruit.

Last week we headed over to campus to host an evening recruitment event for MBA candidates. As a growing firm, we’re looking for new talent to help our clients tell their story. To illustrate our love for local, we brought along Rachel’s Ginger Beer, sparkling wine from Bar Ferdinand, and our favorite raw oysters from Taylor Shellfish.

As the oysters were shucked, we split open 2A and shared what we do, how we work, and who we serve. As a marketing firm, our work relies on information analysis, effective communication, and steady project management. We’re recruiting MBAs for consultant roles because they spend two intensive years building these skills. They’ve learned how to solve marketing problems collaboratively and come to us client-ready.

Jonathan at Meet the Firm

Our evening ended with an offer to Foster MBA students which still stands: If you’re a Foster MBA candidate and are interested in working at 2A, we’ll take you out to coffee one-on-one at one of our favorite spots on Capitol Hill. This is our way to connect with potential recruits without all the awkwardness that can come with crowded networking events. All you need to do is tell us about your favorite Seattle brand in 50 words or less. Email us at thiscouldbeme@2a.consulting and we’ll schedule time with you.

We think our clients keep coming back because we do things a little differently. This shows up not only in the work we deliver, but also in how we find local talent.

08/03/2016

Setting Sail for Good Projects

By: Nick Dwyer

Sailing

Like all true Seattleites, I worship summer. The long days, the balmy temperatures, and the countless ways to enjoy nature make the preceding winter gloom worth it. My favorite place to be during Seattle summertime is aboard a sailboat, sun on my face and wind in my hair. Sounds pretty nice, right?

While I can’t be sailing all the time, I’ve realized that many lessons I’ve learned on the water also show up in how we manage marketing projects at 2A. Below are some common tips for better project management and better sailing, nautical themed pashmina afghans not required.

Try to predict the weather

Business and weather are both difficult to predict. The wind stops blowing or worse, gets too severe. Clients can be hamstrung by both too little or too much business. But by tuning into what’s next in the industry, we can deliver fresh marketing content that helps clients proactively confront their upcoming business challenges. Likewise, don’t forget to check the weather report before you get in a sailboat (Weather Underground is my favorite source) – it will help shape your strategy for the day. It’s not always accurate, but forecasting is a part of good preparation for any project.

Set a course

In sailing and project management, you’re likely to get to your destination faster if you know how to go. By setting detailed goals and continually charting your progress, you’ll figure out what it takes to get from start to finish. This will also help you weather a few surprises along the way. On a project or a sailboat, the worst place to be is lost, so ensure you know where you’re going and how to get there in an organized way.

Communicate with the team

A good day on the water starts with a good crew. You need to know who is trimming the jib or holding the tiller, since you can’t really do both at the same time. Knowing and communicating different roles is key for literal smooth sailing. At 2A, communication between our consultants, writers, and designers is how great content and visuals unite for effective marketing deliverables. Understanding the compatibility between these roles and collaborating effectively are crucial for successful projects.

Mitigate those risks

After nearly colliding with a Victoria Clipper on the Puget Sound, I’ve realized that far off risks can turn into immediate emergencies if you aren’t proactive. While it can be exciting to wonder what’s going to happen in 5 minutes, its best to eliminate the uncertainty. In project management, asking the client for clarity on messaging or thinking longer term about marketing strategy can help avoid future headaches.