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Data-savvy marketing & innovation expert, Woody Bendle takes a look in this guest post at the relationship between customer centricity and growth, or more specifically the lack of both among a select group of traditional retailers.

And just so you know, beyond being a fantastic resource on brand strategy and innovation, Woody has set a new high bar for guest contributors at Brainzooming. He delivered this most recent guest blog post along with a slab of his homebbqed ribs! So, for all the people who send us emails about wanting to guest post with “incredible, unique content,” the question is, “How good are you at grilling?”

Now, here’s Woody!  

 

Brand Strategy – Customer Centricity and Growth by Woody Bendle

Many of America’s largest retailers recently reported financial results falling short of analysts’ (and undoubtedly their own) expectations.  The table below recaps the highlights (or low lights) among select national retailers.

Retail-Q1-2014

Many of them attributed this winter’s unusually cold weather and continuing economic struggles among core customers for their economic shortfalls.  But digging deeper into their numbers shows more to the story. Many of America’s largest retailers are finding it much harder to generate profitable growth in the traditional manner, which has been opening stores in new (domestic and international) markets, expanding product assortments, and becoming more effective and efficient through operational and executional improvements.  Or as I like to say, just getting bigger and better.

The graphic below, which I use when discussing business growth strategy, illustrates the concept of growing a business is pretty straight forward. As the businesses above demonstrated this past quarter, however, it isn’t always easy.

Growth-Framework

To grow any business, you have four options:

  1. Get existing customers to buy more of current products or services
  2. Get new customers (i.e., in different markets) to buy current products or services
  3. Develop or find new products or services for existing customers
  4. Develop or find new products or services for entirely new customers

For roughly fifty years, growth path for nearly all of the retailers above has focused on cells A, B, and to some extent C (i.e.,  Walmart and Target expansions into grocery).  For much of this time, most of these businesses have had incredible success, but growth has become harder the past several years.

What’s changed?

Two things that are fundamentally different about today’s business environment:

1. Market power has shifted away from many businesses to the consumer, due to radical decreases in the costs associated with information and geography.

The internet and mobile technologies have greatly improved the consumer’s ability to be better informed (about alternatives and competitive prices globally) and have enabled disruptive businesses to emerge (i.e., amazon.com – note its 26% growth in North America this past quarter). These have diminished the need for customers to travel to a physical store to make a purchase.

2. The great recession fundamentally changed the consumer mindset, resulting in a “new normal” in consumer behavior.

This is best summed up by The Future’s Company:“Consumers everywhere … are working from a new orientation about what they want and how they buy… [They] are now battle hardened, having found ways to survive and even thrive on the new opportunities a more competitive market has yielded.”

The result is the traditional path to growth – getting bigger and/or getting better – is nearing its limit for many businesses.  This necessitates businesses rethinking their growth strategies, with adopting customer-centric business practices as one avenue for new growth!

Growth through Customer Centricity

Something fascinating about the Strategic Business Growth Framework is the customer/consumer is actually present in every cell.  Through my own consumer experiences, however, it doesn’t often feel like many businesses realize this.  How many of you have heard a store associate say something like, “I don’t know how I’m going to get my job done with all of these customers in here”?

Many businesses are either product or operationally focused.  Nearly every decision they make starts with what they sell (or plan on selling), or how they go about doing what they do.  These businesses put what they do and how they do it in front of whom they do it for.

This is a primary reason why it has taken so long for many traditional businesses to embrace fully integrated multi-channel or omni-channel practices.  While most understand it makes sense to the consumer, they haven’t figured out how to make it make (financial) sense given what they already do, how they currently do it, and how they currently measure all of it.

A customer centric business, however, thinks exactly opposite.  Its decisions start with the customer. Activities (and incentives) are aligned to profitably deliver goods or services maximizing value for customers – and, in turn, their shareholders.  Once they identify an opportunity to create more net value over time, they systematically figure it out, sometimes at the expense (temporarily or permanently) of existing business.

It’s all about creating new customer and shareholder value!

The Next Customer Centricity Step Is Yours

My intent is to shine a light on a different path, not provide the playbook for becoming a customer centric organization.

If you want to become more customer centric, here are eleven questions to help decide if customer centricity is right for you and to help on your journey:

  1. Why do my customers come to us vs. the competition?
  2. What value do we provide to our customers today?
  3. What are all our customers’ needs?
  4. Have our customers’ needs changed? How and why?
  5. What customer needs do we currently meet / exceed today?
  6. How well are all of their needs being met by the marketplace today?
  7. Are there new competitors who are satisfying some of our customers’ needs in a different way?
  8. What can we do better (or differently) to uniquely meet and exceed those needs today and tomorrow?
  9. What else can we do to create even more value for our customers?
  10. Are we willing to put customer’s interests at the center of our decisions and processes?
  11. How much are we willing to change?  Really?

And as you answer question 11, don’t confuse how much change you are willing to undergo with how much that change is noticed by customers and whether they value it.

Those are three separate questions for all you operationally focused people. There’s no “extra credit for efficiency” in trying to answer them all together. To the contrary, you’ll definitely be penalized for thinking efficiency at the expense of thinking about your customer! Woody Bendle

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Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative thinking and ideas! For an organizational innovation success boost, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative plans to efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

 

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It’s wonderful to feature four important brand strategy questions from customer experience strategy and innovation expert Woody Bendle. In the course of his typical daily routine, Woody has a more than healthy commute by Kansas City standards. Woody texted me about this brand strategy lesson on the way home one recent evening and followed it up the next day with this post reminding those responsible for brand strategy to think about what will happen when our ideas actually meet up with customers. Here’s Woody!

woody-bendleBrand Strategy – When “Good Enough” Isn’t by Woody Bendle

“The enemy of the good is great.”

Have you heard this expression before? 

If you haven’t, the sentiment behind this expression is this: If you are continually reluctant to move forward until you have something that is great or perfect, you might sometimes fail to make valuable progress by getting something out there that is pretty darned good – but not great.

In many situations, I wholeheartedly subscribe to this philosophy.

But, there are occasions when you absolutely need to be better than “good enough.”

One of those occasions involves your brand strategy and every time you are presenting your brand.

Brand Strategy Isn’t the Place for Good Enough

I recently pulled off the interstate to fuel up at a truck stop. As I was fueling, I happened to notice, for some reason, a display attached to the pump about never paying full price for gas again.

Shell-1

I really didn’t think too much about this display until I went around to the end of the pump to grab the squeegee and clean off my windshield. This is what I saw.

140410-Shell3

OOPS!

The original message that got my interest about never paying full price again didn’t come through on the Shell brochure holder.

There, thanks to the application holder lid’s placement, the “Never pay full price again” card became the “pay full price again” card.

I actually did a double-take, shook my head and wondered to myself if anyone had even thought about trying to stick some brochures in the holders to see what it looked like before they had a gazillion of them printed and sent all over the country. The sad thing is if they had just taken the two logos at the bottom of the brochure and moved them to the very top and shifted the rest of the content down,  the message would’ve been read very clearly.

Lessons learned, and it’s a great reminder that design and layout matters.

A Brand Strategy that is “Good Enough” Isn’t

I have no idea if anyone at Shell is even aware of this issue. It did, however, serve as a valuable reminder that every time you are putting your brand in the marketplace, you need to ask yourself several important brand strategy questions:

  1. What am I trying to convey / communicate about my brand or my brand’s promotion?
  2. Is the message clear and compelling – not to me but to the customer?
  3. How will the message be put in front of the customer?
  4. What exactly will the customer see, hear, think, and feel when my message is put in front of them?

And finally, as you are working through the above questions, you’d be well served to think like my Missouri neighbors and just say “Show-Me” a little more often. Woody Bendle

 

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Customer experience strategy and innovation expert Woody Bendle is getting all crazy innovative in today’s guest post as he shares how to push for extreme innovation when you need it. Take it away Woody!

 

Creative Thinking Exercise for Extreme Innovation by Woody Bendle

One of the most exciting things to me in the innovation process is generating an array of possible ideas for uniquely solving unmet or underserved consumer needs.

i3-generate-ideas

As you see in the i3 Continuous Innovation Process map above, generating ideas happens AFTER the consumer needs have been identified. The reason for this is two-fold:

  1. If you generate new product and/or service ideas before you fully understand all of your consumers’ needs, there is a high likelihood you will waste time, effort and money chasing a cool idea destined to fail.
  2. It is easier to come up with possible solutions to a problem once you actually know what the problem is!

Assume we’ve done our homework and have clearly identified and prioritized all our consumers’ needs based on the magnitude of the opportunity.  The next step in the Continuous Innovation Process is to come up with as many possible ideas or solutions (regardless of feasibility), that might create meaningful new value for our target consumers.

I like starting idea generation sessions with a set of exercises I’ve developed called “Going to Extremes.”  The objective is to break the ice quickly and get the craziest, coolest, far-reaching things you can come up with on the table to start. The more absurd, extreme or ridiculous the idea the better!

go-extremes-exercises

As you begin working with these tools, it is important to frame each exercise in the context of exploring possibilities for addressing only one or two unmet (or underserved) consumer needs.  Narrowing your focus actually works in your favor when you are Brainzooming!

It is important to emphasize you really want to try to come up with 100 (or more) ideas for each exercise.  All ideas are welcome – as long as they are crazy, cool, extreme, ridiculous or even absurd!

In my experience, the best and most innovative ideas tend to be closer to the 100th idea than the first, so keep generating as many ideas as you can.  And don’t judge them, because the next step of the i3 Continuous Innovation Process is where we weed out the ideas that don’t make economic sense.

The Value of Going for Extreme Innovation

After working with these creative thinking exercises for several years, I’ve found them effective for several reasons:

  1. They explicitly make it okay to say something a little (or a lot) crazy. Everyone has a little “crazy” in them, and they now have permission to let it out!  And, Column C reinforces that we’re looking for stuff that is really really crazy, cool and way out there! As a side note, how many times do you suppose Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs or the Wright brothers heard, “That’s crazy!” – only later to hear “This is awesome!” or “This is amazing!”
  2. Because you are going for quantity in addition to the extreme, participants tend not to overthink their ideas in search of that spectacular idea – they just let them rip!
  3. Thinking about the why and the what (column B) highlights functional and emotional benefits which often lead naturally to new, even better ideas for Column C. (Remember that breakthrough innovations tend to be much closer to the extremes than where we currently are. )
  4. Lastly, these exercises are a ton of fun!  Now, who doesn’t need more fun in their life?!

So here is a crazy idea; the next time you are planning an idea generation session, why don’t you give these Going to Extremes Exercises a shot?

And if you need a little added encouragement, let’s give a listen to what Seal has to say about getting a little Crazy.  Better yet!  Play this tune in the background during your next idea generation session! Woody Bendle

 

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Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative thinking and ideas! For an organizational innovation success boost, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative plans to efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

 

 

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Customer experience strategy and innovation expert Woody Bendle is back with his first post of this year. I was glad Woody tackled a visual thinking topic, because it’s something we’ve touched on, but haven’t spent enough time addressing. Depending on how tomorrow’s post shakes out, we’ll likely talk about what it takes to create a valuable infographic, such as Woody shares below. Here’s Woody!

Visual Thinking: Better Ways to Think about Calorie Data by Woody Bendle

Here we are in the New Year, and if you are like me, your selfies probably have more “self” in them now than prior to the holidays!

While many of us resolve to start each year with intentions of exercising and watching our diet more closely, have you ever stopped to consider what “watching our diet” really means?

For years, health and nutrition experts have recommended regular exercise and a balanced diet of 2,000 calories per day (pdf link). Two thousand calories is roughly what an adult human needs daily to function and maintain weight.

The exercise thing I readily understand, but I have absolutely no idea how many calories I consume in a meal, let alone a day. For all I know, I could be consuming 20,000 calories per day! If it were easier to know how many calories were in the different things I eat and drink, however, I would maybe pay more attention.  After all, I am sort of a numbers guy.

Here comes the calorie data!

Before too much longer, we’re all going to have A LOT more data on calories all around us! Did you know one new regulation under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a requirement for restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to post calorie information for menu items?

I’m not here to pick with the ACA, nor this new requirement to provide calorie information.

But if the regulation’s intent is to really get Americans to think differently about their food choices, there are several reasons posting more numbers next to a menu item will likely not accomplish much:

  1. Lack of context – Most Americans have absolutely no idea the current US Dietary Guideline is a daily diet of roughly 2,000 calories.
  2. Lack of meaning – Most Americans have no idea what a calorie actually is nor what it means, and
  3. Lack of usefulness – More data doesn’t necessarily mean better (more relevant or useful) information

Granted, most people will understand something with 500 calories has five times more calories than something else with 100 calories.  But so what!?  And that’s my point.

How about creating BETTER information?

If this new regulation’s goal is to help people better understand tradeoffs between menu choices (any get them to change their diets), we could be more creative in how we provide the information.  That is, help people understand what the data mean in a way that is more meaningful to them!

What if McDonald’s displayed menu items in the following manner?

Menu-Calories

NOTE 1: Based on an average male adult between the age of 31-50, weighing 195 lbs.
NOTE 2: Walking pace of 3 ½ miles per hour and jogging pace of 5 miles per hour.

When I see that a Big Mac, Large Fries and Large Coke is 1,330 calories I’m not entirely sure what that means.  However, when the calories are translated to how much exercise is required to burn off those calories, I now have some information I can run with effectively!

Understanding the average Joe on the street has to walk 3 ½ hours or jog 1 hour and 45 minutes to completely work off that Big Mac, Large Fries and Large Regular Coke tells me something!  And if he were to get the McChicken Sandwich, Kid’s Fries and Large Diet Coke (a total of 460 calories), he’d only need to do an hour and 10 minutes worth of walking or 40 minutes of jogging?

Walking 3 ½ hours vs. 1 hour and 10 minutes… hmmm.

By providing the calorie information in a way I can more easily envision and digest, I actually think about my particular meal choice differently. And that’s some food for though – even though thinking doesn’t apparently burn ANY caloriesWoody Bendle

 

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“How strong is my organization’s social media strategy?”

9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy

Is your social media implementation working as well as it can? In less than 60 minutes with the new FREE Brainzooming ebook “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy,” you’ll have a precise answer to this question.

Any executive can make a thorough yet rapid evaluation of nine different dimensions of their social media strategies with these nine diagnostics. Download Your Free Copy of “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy.”

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I avoid politics here on Brainzooming, so this isn’t a political guest post. It’s a customer experience strategy lesson post from customer experience strategy and innovation expert Woody Bendle. Woody weighs in today on how to avoid your own high profile customer experience management issues based on learnings from the roll out of healthcare.gov. Here’s Woody!

 

woody-bendle3 Customer Experience Strategy Lessons in the Healthcare.gov Launch by Woody Bendle

Last month, one of the most highly anticipated recent website launches, www.healthcare.gov became one of the largest customer experience failures ever. Aside from the many technical design and architecture deficiencies, healthcare.gov provides three key Customer Experience Management (CEM) lessons.

  1. Do not underestimate peak demand
  2. Do not go live without stress-testing peak demand
  3. Have backup plans for worst case scenarios

Let’s dive in to these three lessons.

Lesson 1 – Do not underestimate peak demand!

HealthcaredotgovThis is a blinding flash of the obvious, but if you don’t understand your possible peak demand, really bad things can happen.  Like millions of really unhappy people wasting hours staring at a 404 error page, and all sorts of really bad press resulting in plummeting approval ratings.

Within minutes of go-live, healthcare.gov came to a screeching halt.  Why?  One contributing reason was a gross underestimation of how many people might visit the website its first day.

The thing is, figuring out a possible maximum peak demand for the ACA website isn’t hard – there are multiple scenarios for estimating it.

For an upper bound, we could naïvely assume every one of the roughly 240 million people in the US over the age of 18 could possibly visit the site on day one.

Since this is highly unlikely, what would be reasonable? How about the number of people without insurance now required to have insurance?

According to a September news release from the Census Bureau an estimated 48 million people in the US did not have health insurance in 2012 (including 6.6 million children under 18).  That translates to forty-one or forty-two million uninsured US adults legally required to obtain healthcare. It’s possible – although not probable – they could all decide to visit the website day one.

Another consideration is not everyone in the US has Internet access.  The Pew Center reports that 15% of US adults don’t use the internet, leaving approximately 35 million uninsured US adults with internet access who just might visit healthcare.gov on day one.  But, even this isn’t all that likely given America’s second favorite pastime (after baseball) is procrastination.

Cyber Monday, one of the busiest Internet traffic days annually,  provides another estimate of potential peak demand. According to Experian Hitwise, amazon.com had the highest Cyber Monday traffic volume in 2012 with nearly 39 million visits, walmart.com was second with nearly 19 million visits, and bestbuy.com followed with just over 9 million site visits. While it is unlikely the healthcare.gov launch would be met with amazon-type traffic its first day, it is nonetheless remotely possible.

How much demand peak demand should they have planned for with healthcare.gov on day one?  Apparently, way more than they did.

This leads us to our second key Customer Experience lesson.

Lesson 2 – Do not go live without stress-testing peak demand

From the Experian statistics, it is clearly possible to handle millions of site visitors on a single day.  Companies are already designing and supporting websites to handle massive amounts of daily site traffic. That healthcare.gov crashed immediately upon launch strongly indicates the team could not have performed stress testing anywhere near possible peak site demand levels.

The worst part though, according to comScore, is only about 2.5 million people actually visited healthcare.gov on its first day using PCs.  And, since roughly 20% of all Internet traffic comes via mobile devices, potentially only 3 million people in total attempted to visit healthcare.gov its first day.  If each person attempted to visit the site twice, due to technical hiccups, it might have received between 5 to 6 million visits its first day. This certainly is not a big traffic day by modern Internet standards. But, healthcare.gov still crashed – creating millions of frustrated customers and placing a dark cloud of skepticism over the entire ACA program.

This leads me to one final lesson from the launch.

Lesson 3 – Have backup plans for worst-case scenarios

If healthcare.gov were any other other website, hundreds of millions of people globally might not know what a colossal failure its launch was.  It isn’t just any other website; it is perhaps the most highly anticipated, highly visible (not to mention, legally mandated for millions of currently uninsured US adults) website launches in history!

Should you be responsible for such a website, there are two critical questions to ask and reliably answer:

  1. What’s the worst that could happen?
  2. What are we going to do if the worst thing actually happens?

Horrible customer experiences are very difficult to recover from successfully.  The growing widespread knowledge of horrible customer experiences, such as the healthcare.gov launch, makes these situations even more challenging!  I’m certain there are more than a few in Washington who agree right now.  But if you plan for worst-case scenarios, you can proactively attempt to minimize (and possibly even recover from) the damage done due to underestimating and under-testing peak user demand.

The Final Word? Hardly

In the immortal words of Dwight D. Eisenhower: “In preparing for battle [or the launch of the healthcare.gov marketplace] I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Woody Bendle

 

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“How strong is my organization’s social media strategy?”

9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy

Is your social media implementation working as well as it can? In less than 60 minutes with the new FREE Brainzooming ebook “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy,” you’ll have a precise answer to this question.

Any executive can make a thorough yet rapid evaluation of nine different dimensions of their social media strategies with these nine diagnostics. Download Your Free Copy of “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy.”

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Customer experience strategy and innovation expert Woody Bendle is sharing his perspective on the links between corporate strategic planning and brand strategy today, including a great strategic brand planning tool to help identify branding opportunities and gaps your organization faces. Without delay, here’s Woody!

 

Brand Strategy – A Strategic Brand Planning Tool by Woody Bendle

Mike has published recent pieces on strategy and strategic planning that inspired me to reflect on the process and effectiveness of strategy, especially brand strategy. It fascinates me that strategy and strategic planning are often considered separate and different from brand strategy.  Since many executives don’t understand what a brand is, they don’t realize an organization’s brand should govern and be the basis for corporate strategy and planning.

Strategy and Brands

Strategy should effectively set an organization apart from competitors.  A good strategy (well executed) can make an entity appreciably unique and compellingly relevant to a meaningful proportion of consumers. This is precisely what a good brand does!  So why is brand strategy so often overlooked in corporate strategy or planning?

I believe there are three reasons:

  1. Lack of understanding
  2. Misperceptions – Corporate strategy and planning are considered to be for “left-brained numbers people’ and brand strategy (if an organization even does it) is for “right-brained marketing
  3. Complexity – Brands are complex, somewhat abstract, and don’t fit neatly into financial spreadsheets

While the concept of a brand can be difficult to get your head around, that complexity shouldn’t suggest branding be ignored. Let’s break down the concept to its component parts, tackling the basic definition first.

So what is a Brand?

Most of us can name dozens of brands, including our “favorite” brands.  We can describe brands and frequently make decisions because of them.  So, while brands play roles in our lives, defining a brand is where many get hung up.

Through studying how consumers and organizations develop, manage, think about and relate to brands, I’ve developed the following definition:

A Brand is something that provides and is both identity and meaning.  It is a continual interpretation that exists as a result of that which is conveyed by an entity through its communications, products and/or services, and that which is understood by those who interact with that entity’s communications, products and/or services.  

That seems pretty abstract and complex, I’ll admit.  Let’s simplify it to an organization’s brand being:

  • Who it is
  • What it stands for or represents
  • Why it exists
  • How it behaves, communicates, and/or operates
  • How it is, and how it wants to be seen and/or thought of

For those interacting with (i.e., purchasing, using, consuming) a brand, it is:

  • A commitment or promise by or from the brand itself
  • An aid for decision making
  • An intrinsic and extrinsic reflection of who they are
  • A statement about what they value and believe in
  • A tacit or explicit signal about how they see themselves and how they want to be seen by others

The next layer of complexity in branding is because brands are not completely within an organization’s control.  While companies or individuals create brands, they exist in a dynamic perceptual ecosystem, i.e. an intricate network of interactions between and among an array of constituents (as shown here).

Dyanmic-Brand-Ecosystem

Brands directly interact with and influence perceptions for a number of different constituents (the blue arrows).  These constituents influence and affect the brand through reciprocal relationships of varying strength.  Over time, the full power and impact of a brand results from a vast multitude of direct and indirect interactions within the ecosystem.

This creates two implications:

  1. Once a brand is launched, the originator no longer fully owns it.  It is shared by all who directly and / or indirectly interact with it.
  2. While the brand’s originator does not fully own the brand, it retains absolute responsibility today and in the future for how the brand is viewed.

So because brands are complex and are shaped by others outside your organization, managing it overall demands a well-articulated brand strategy!

A Strategic Brand Planning Tool

So with the definition addressed, let’s pull apart a brand and systematically examine all the different brand interactions.  This tool I developed helps me effectively do that:

Brand-Plng-Template

Step one is identifying the brand constituents populating the rows by answering:

  • Who are all the parties interacting with your brand?
  • Who has a say in your brand’s future?

After creating your own list of brand constituents systematically work through each column.

  • Column A – Think about how you would like each constituent group to describe your Brand.  What should your brand stand for with each of them?  How should it be known?  Note – this is an internal exercise since you have to answer and own how and what you want others to think about your brand.
  • Column B – How does each of these different groups actually think about, or describe your brand?  What are they saying about it to others?  Are you regarded positively by some and negatively by others? Surveys and social media listening are great sources for this.
  • Column C – This column pinpoints areas with differences between how you want your brand to be thought of and how it is currently regarded.  Some differences will be subtle and others could be rather large. Additionally, this column’s answer can be quantitative and/or qualitative.  
  • Column D – After identifying areas with meaningful perception differences, outline things your organization can or will do to close these perception or image gaps.

As you work through brand tool, some cells will be easier than others to complete. Only you can determine whether it is worth the effort to collect the information needed. After using this tool many times, I’m confident you will identify several things important to your brand’s future that warrant further discussion and attention.

Good (Company) to Great (Brand)

Body-TattooCompanies and organizations are a dime-a-dozen; many have very similar overarching goals and objectives.  If an organization has been around for any length of time, it is probably doing a number of things well.  But is it truly great?  Is it considered a Great Brand?

Great Brands are different; they are one-in-a-million!  Great Brands connect by providing a deeper sense of identity and meaning.  Great Brands wind up tattooed on peoples bodies (I’m betting the first brand that came to you right now was Harley Davidson)!

Great Brands don’t happen by accident! Great Brands are the result of great, well-executed brand strategies!

As you tune your strategic plans for next year, secure a seat at the strategic planning table for your brand management effort.  It just might earn your brand a prominent place on someone’s body! Woody Bendle

 

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Customer experience strategy and innovation expert Woody Bendle is back, ranting up about thought leadership, what it means, and whether or not you can be a self-appointed thought leader. I’ve had a beef with the term for long time. That beef grew when a co-worker from the corporate days routed a strategy document he said was shaped by a number of thought leaders in the company. This was the first I and a really sharp co-worker had heard or seen of it. Get the picture? After that, the inside joke between us was whatever the hurdle was to be a thought leader, we were apparently FAR from it. But who knows, if you can meet Woody’s criteria, you just might be thought leader! Here’s Woody:

You Just Might be a Thought Leader by Woody Bendle

I look forward to this time every year when the Nobel prizes are awarded!  How exciting!

Since 1901 (with the exception of three years during WWII), the global community has celebrated the achievements of individuals making the most substantial contributions towards the benefit of mankind in Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature, World Peace, and (since 1969) Economics.

The list of Nobel Laureates, in my opinion, is the quintessential who’s who list of Thought Leaders.  Here are a few you might recognize:

  • Marie Curie – Chemistry – 1911
  • Albert Einstein – Physics – 1921
  • T.S. Elliot – Literature – 1948
  • Max Theiler – Medicine – 1951
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. – Peace – 1964
  • Milton Friedman – Economics – 1976

Ranting-Woody-Bendle2Quite a list of thought leaders, wouldn’t you agree?

So you say you want to be a thought leader?

They say timing is everything, and the timing of this year’s Nobel prizes is really interesting in that I recently participated with entrepreneurs and innovators in a moderated discussion on Branding and Public Relations for startup businesses.  Within the first few minutes, the group’s conversation turned to the importance of being recognized as a “thought leader”’  For 45 minutes, the group discussed thought leadership and what they were doing (or thought others could be doing) to be seen as Thought Leaders.

I kept thinking there sure was a lot of misunderstanding about thought leadership. As far as I was concerned, most of what the group was talking about had little, if anything, to do with true thought leadership. What I took away from the group’s discussion, was thought leadership essentially boils down to three things:

  1. Putting out a lot of content that positions oneself (or one’s organization) as being a thought leader
  2. Having a lot of followers sharing or “liking” your content
  3. Getting a reputable publication do an article on you (or your organization) talking about your thought-leading status

While these tactics may very well help grow a business or build a brand, I do not at all feel it makes one a thought leader.

On my way home, I replayed the thought leadership conversation mentally, and it really bothered me that so many people actually felt that:

  1. It is really important to be seen (or positioned) as a thought leader
  2. It is relatively straight forward to actually become a thought leader
  3. And labeling yourself as a thought leader is expected in today’s business world

I flat-out disagree! True thought leaders are few and very far between!  They occupy the rarest of rare air!  They are in fact, the types of  extraordinary individuals who win Nobel Prizes!  But I have to admit, I wasn’t able to necessarily come up with a succinct working definition of Thought Leader.

You Just Might Be a Thought Leader

As I batted around some working principles of “thought leadership”, my inner Jeff Foxworthy took over.  Given no widely agreed upon definition for Thought Leadership, I took a crack at coming up with some of my own criteria.

  • If you have a body of thought named after you . . . you just might be a thought leader.
  • If you have created a widely used strategic framework, and it is named after you . . . you just might be a thought leader.
  • If you have developed an approach that has become the foundation for an industry or broader discipline . . . you just might be a thought leader.
  • If your approach to something has revolutionized the path forward for your field . . . you just might be a thought leader.
  • If you have an elementary particle named after you . . . you just might be a thought leader (with a nod to this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics recipient Peter Higgs).
  • If you have actually won the Nobel Prize . . . you just might a thought leader.

And here’s one more for good measure:

  • If you have the audacity call yourself a thought leader . . . you most definitely are NOT a thought leader!

I’m sure with more time, I could add to my list, but this is a pretty good starting point.  Besides, I’d love to hear some of your Jeff Foxworthy-esque thought leadership criteria! Woody Bendle

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