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Keith Prather is Managing Director of Armada Corporate Intelligence, a corporate business intelligence firm that functions as outsourced members of corporate strategy groups and consults with companies of all sizes on strategy and implementation. Armada is sponsoring this week of posts on getting ready for 2010 planning.

I’ve known Keith for nearly a decade and have worked with him closely on a variety of strategic and market planning efforts. Today, I’m excited he’s sharing his professional perspectives on getting a better understanding of your external environment during this period of dramatic global change in business and consumer markets:

A critical component of a successful strategic plan is a well-established strategy foundation – a compilation of information and intelligence covering your industry, global markets, customers, and the environment. Particularly relevant this year is the need to produce an accurate economic forecast with meaning and relevance for the business. And given the uncertainty surrounding the global economy, this can be a daunting task.

Following the most basic tenets, forecasters need to identify the supply and demand drivers for an industry, and capture meaningful data describing the condition and outlook for them. Sometimes though the most impactful elements on a business are not what we think. Going to the expense side of the income statement and understanding the biggest cost items in your business will help determine the real key elements of supply – those you rely on.

For instance, one client believed steel (which was one of the company’s top expenses) was the primary input for its business, with countless hours spent monitoring, forecasting, and negotiating steel prices. Energy costs, on the other hand, were not considered to have a material impact, and were lumped into utility and overhead costs. In 2008, however, consumption of oil-based resources drove prices up significantly. As a result, oil costs had to be factored much more directly into forecasting models to improve their accuracy. By not anticipating this significant change to the company’s business mix, however, it was caught flat footed.

On the demand side, the challenge is more complex. While providing future economic insights for clients, several fundamental items seem to be driving things developments. First, everything ultimately circles back to consumers. You and I, spending money, drives more than 70% of the nation’s $13 trillion in GDP. Watching consumer spending, consumer confidence, housing, and several other metrics tracking consumer activity are useful in helping gauge future activity. One great aggregator site for basic economic information is the US Census Bureau’s Economic Indicator page.

There are some other great free aggregator sites providing solid current economic news and explanations of some of the items driving current activity. One of my favorites is the RTTNews Daily Market Analysis. We also pay a lot of attention to the Financial Times, CNBC, Wall Street Journal, and Global Insight for forecasting information.

For manufacturing, the Institute for Supply Management publishes one of the most accurate gauges of manufacturing activity, the Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), on a monthly basis. You can read about the PMI in simple, easy to follow prose at the ISM website.

Calculating risk is also an important component to a well-done strategy foundation. With a wave of new legislation floating around in Congress, it is important for companies to use scenario planning in considering impacts of various regulatory actions on the company. From health care to energy legislation, companies will be hit with direct and indirect risks as a result. Using a system such as the Lockwood Analytical Method for Prediction (LAMP) can help in gauging which scenarios provide the greatest risk – and the greatest likelihood of occurring.

It can’t be said enough, a solid strategy foundation is the underpinning to a successful strategic plan. Woodrow Wilson once said: “We should not only use all the brains we have, but all the brains we can borrow.” If you can’t build the strategy foundation in-house, it’s worth getting help to make sure that the business landscape is being accurately portrayed. Otherwise, you might be building a ship when what you really need is a bicycle. – Keith Prather

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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My, how times change!

In the old days, I’d get twitchy if our planning group’s attention hadn’t turned to readying for the next year’s planning by April with completion targeted for early September. Amid a changing business environment, however, those dates got progressively later until the prospect of nearly coincident planning left us unphased.

At the Frost & Sullivan event I participated in during the first week in November, attendees were asked who was still working on 2010 plans. Based on the large percentage of hands raised, it looked like many companies have pushed back planning efforts much later.

As a result, Brainzooming is focused on 2010 planning, providing tips and ideas to prepare your plan for what your marketplace holds next year. Here’s what’s coming this week:

If you’re feeling really under the gun for getting your 2010 plan done on time with the level of rigor to help your business be more successful in 2010, get in touch with Armada today for help with an Idea Generation Session, a Plan Audit, or a Fast-Track plan building session. – Mike Brown

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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I “led” (and by “led,” I mean “asked one question and got out of the way”) a roundtable on innovation challenges at the Frost & Sullivan Marketing World 2009 event last week with a group of incredible marketers. The only challenge was taking notes fast enough!

The participants included Jeffrey Rohrs (ExactTarget), Andy Shafer (Elevance Renewable Sciences), Sean Cheyney (Accuquote), Steven Handmaker (Assurance), Kathy Zanzucchi (Microflex Corporation), Theresa Kwan-Zangara (Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc.), and Brian Krause (Molex). Here are innovation challenges the participants successfully addressed:

No Process for Channeling Customer Ideas

ExactTarget crowdsources product innovation ideas – 90% of enhancement ideas come from its user community. Additionally, an Idea Lab allows customers on the forefront of its product use to trial changes in a structured environment. (Jeff Rohrs)

Customer Perspectives Are Being Ignored

It’s important for marketing to be involved with innovation and new product development efforts to help vet ideas. Without marketing introducing a customer perspective, there’s an opportunity for gaps to develop. (Kathy Zanzucchi)

There’s No Widespread Understanding of Innovation

Marketing can become more involved and help drive innovation by setting up company-wide training curriculum on innovation. (Sean Cheyney)

No Motivation to Share Ideas

One way to stimulate employee innovation ideas is making a full-fledged program of it, complete with a character (in the case of Assurance, it’s “Ivan Idea”!), a convenient intranet-based way to submit ideas, and a $5 gift card for EVERY business process improvement idea submitted. Among 200 Assurance employees, 60% have submitted ideas! Every idea is reviewed, followed-up, and published through the work of a key middle management group. (Steven Handmaker)

The right kind of internal competition can be a stimulus for sharing proven ideas others haven’t yet implemented. With a distributed marketing force, Gallagher Benefit Services uses national webcasts to prompt individual offices to share what’s working for them to improve efficiency, revenue growth, and operations. Marketing plays a role in drawing out best practices from participants. (Theresa Kwan-Zangara)

Death by a Thousand Approvals

Sometimes innovation hinges on avoiding corporate inertia and simply starting before getting everything cleared. Social media implementation can be an example of this in more traditional companies. Get the kindred spirits in place, agree to the program goals and risks you’re willing to take on, and begin. With social media especially, there may be a better opportunity to start and experiment within an agreed to framework that minimizes the potential for big gaffes. (Brian Krause)

Thanks to everybody for making it such a great information-packed session. For even more ideas, check out this previous Brainzooming post on dealing with ten common NOs in business inNOvation. – Mike Brown


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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Today’s recap from the Frost & Sullivan Marketing World 2009 event, highlights presentations from two CMOs – Eduardo Conrado at Motorola (Broadband Mobility Solutions) and Chris X. Moloney at Scottrade.

Eduardo spoke on “CEO Expectations: How Marketing Must Drive Growth in Today’s Economy.” Among his key points:

  • One downside of seeing yourself as a tech company is you lead with technology, not customer benefits. Comment – Every company is susceptible to this. When you’re strong at a core capability delivering important benefits, make sure you don’t get caught up in the capability and lose sight of potential changes in benefits your customers are seeking.
  • In positioning new products, Motorola attempts to start with the customer perspective, followed by the Motorola solution, and then adding the product detail. Comment - This isn’t revolutionary, yet this solid formula should be kept top of mind when working through positioning, messaging, and customer communications.
  • Motorola attempts to find communities that have developed offline and create a place to host them online. And to add value, Motorola seeks to aggregate relevant content from multiple sources, including material from outside the company. Comment – Great reminder that a company’s social media effort can benefit from going to where people are already being social and adding value vs. trying to lure them to a completely new place with unproven benefit.

Chris Moloney covered “Major Growth and Marketing Opportunities in the New Reset Economy,” with metrics and search as important themes:

  • Chris challenged sellers to work from the buyer’s metrics to be able to best serve them. Comment – Amid the challenges many marketers face in getting a handle on their own metrics, it can seem daunting to consider starting with consumer metrics. Yet this theme is right on target, and has been echoed by other CMOs I’ve seen in the past 18 months, most particularly Keith Pigues at PlyGem. You have to understand what success looks like from the customer’s view, particularly in B2B markets, to deliver the best possible value.
  • Every marketer needs to understand search in some form, and it’s a good area to get good at for the efficiency benefits in can create within your marketing mix. Comment – Search was a big theme throughout the day. Patricia Hursh, President and Founder, SmartSearch Marketing, did an informative presentation on free tools to better understand search traffic on your website. It’s an area I’ll be exploring more deeply given the predictability of search as a marketing tool.

Tomorrow, we’ll recap the innovation roadblocks roundtable I facilitated at the conference, with some really cool ideas from the participants. – Mike Brown

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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I participated in the Frost & Sullivan Marketing World 2009 event November 2 in Chicago, leading a round table on getting around innovation roadblocks. The next several days will highlight some of the many intriguing ideas shared during the day from great marketing practitioners.

Yesterday’s Creative Quickie mentioned the title “Chief Creatologist” which belongs to Joe Batista at HP, who spoke on “Creating New Market Revenues in a Down Economy.” I met Joe at a 2007 Frost & Sullivan event, and his case study-driven presentations at both events were tremendously thought provoking considering HP targets $3 billion in new growth quarterly from the approaches Joe shared.

He looks for business growth through discovering and exploring new areas to respond to clients’ needs. His efforts center on going beyond a closed innovation model and exploring the company’s research in new ways and looking beyond its boundaries for new opportunities:

  • Joe highlighted techniques to help identify new growth sources, including thinking broadly about the available assets a company has, generalizing what the assets (especially technology) can do, and connecting organizationally-dispersed assets inside a company. Comment – These all tie to fundamental lateral thinking principles, stressing the real-life importance of being able to apply abstract thinking skills in identifying opportunities that would otherwise be missed.
  • Look for pockets of knowledge and expertise inside your business and explore how they can be converted into new revenue streams. Comment - A great way to do this is to identify what BENEFITS your knowledge can provide and then think through what other parties are seeking these or related benefits.
  • One more potential growth source? Growth arises from examining currencies you have available inside your company (i.e., what flows through your value system) and by making the boundaries of your company porous so ideas from outside can flow through it. Comment – Joe’s remarks continually underscored the importance of being able to step away from detail and “get” the bigger, potentially underlying picture, whether it’s inside or outside your company.


There’s a lot behind these summarized comments. I look forward to trying to connect with Joe further and better understand the innovative approach he’s bringing to business growth! – Mike Brown

BTW -This is the second anniversary of the blog’s first post. No big deal in the posts this week, but it seemed like at least worth a mention. Look for the Brainzooming redesign and move to a WordPress format in the very near future!

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Spare a minute to recall what stood out for you last week, looking for creativity triggers in your recollections. If you’re on Twitter, they make for great fodder to tweet as well.

Here are some things from last week on my creative quickie list:

  • Important relearning of the week? When introducing a new idea, deliberately put yourself in situations that require explaining it. It really helps refine messaging much more quickly.
  • Most interesting strategy question of the week? “In ten words, tell me what creates profit in your business?”
  • Most surprising street sign? This one below. Where, but in Kansas City, is there a 10 hour parking sign?


  • A good deed that’s usually appreciated: Invite an introvert to go with you to a networking function. (Or to paraphrase @trmndsblndtte: Help de-flower an introvert!) If you’re an introvert and someone asks you to an event, accept the invitation!
  • Greatest inspirational messages while walking down the street? These from the school at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.


  • Most innovative job title of someone I met? “Chief Creatologist”
  • Most reassuring development? Encouragement from so many great people. Now to figure out how to engineer it happening every week! – Mike Brown

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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I’m a huge fan of NOT starting from scratch. If there’s a remnant of a leftover idea, approach, or possibility sitting around, I always want to begin innovating there and get that much of a head start toward a final goal by incorporating what I’ve done before.

Earlier this year, long-time friend Vince Koehler stopped by while in town. Vince shared his approach on collateral updates: he requires his staff to throw out all the copy on a brochure that’s being redone and start over with a creative fresh start.

The reason? Doing so forces strategic thinking and a fresh creative view of the program that’s being marketed. There’s the potential for tremendous innovation value since this is another way of forcing a different look at a familiar topic.

If you’ve got a project that looks and feels like a re-do but needs some new creativity, why not give this strategy a try? Toss out everything that’s gone before, and it will feel just like starting over. – Mike Brown

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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