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So far, 2018 has been a year of so much progress…along with a sizable dose of healthy frustration. Progress, in that we’re pushing multiple new brands (including Idea Magnets) to market. Frustration, because it’s 2018 and not 2011 or 2012, at the latest.

Here is the ultra-honest admission: I didn’t have all the business model stuff and entrepreneurial lessons figured out when I started The Brainzooming Group.

While I’d spent TONS of time and effort on developing our methodology, I thought all the people who told me that they wanted to work with me when I left the corporate world would come running to work with Brainzooming. The rest would be history.

I was wrong.

It’s taken until this year to feel like we’re putting important parts of the business model in place, and while that’s great and all, I wish it had happened years ago. Unfortunately, it turns out that it’s entirely possible you might start getting all your ducks (or even just a few important basics) in a row AFTER you’ve jumped into the entrepreneurial pool with both feet.

And, you know, if you keep surviving to do business another day, maybe it’s okay if you don’t have the entire business model solved immediately.

5 Entrepreneurial Lessons I Wish I’d Figured Out Earlier

While I usually save my entrepreneurial lessons for an annual-ish article, here’s a head start on what I’ve learned during the last year about the best advice people have shared with me that I wish I’d fully grasped before starting Brainzooming :

  1. The best advice? You have to find opportunities for leverage in your business. Without this type of opportunity, no one will want to invest in it. Without this type of opportunity, YOU should question your own investment in your own business.
  2. The next-best advice? Figure out what you can sell to all the visitors to your website that fall outside the target for your main business. Someone pointed out this incredible truism in 2012 or 2013. We’re only now starting to capitalize on it.
  3. The best advice after that? You need to have products to sell globally if you hope to generate revenue when you sleep (or even just sit on your ass and do nothing at some point in your life).
  4. Then? If you’re ultimately going to have something to sell to everyone that comes to your website, you need to engage and reach out to them along the way. It’s a mistake to overlook them until you have products ready for them. Find early opportunities to deliver value to them.
  5. Build your database EARLY. Spend time with your database. Continually explore and learn new ways for your database to shape and grow your business.

Looking at this list, it seems to comprise mainly things that I, as a marketer, should have instinctively known.

Alas, it’s taken time. And there’s still more learning ahead.

I just wanted those of you who more recently made the jump to the entrepreneurial life (and those of you in corporate life who think it sounds great to be your own boss), to know that you don’t have to know everything at once.

Despite what all the gurus say: it takes time, my friend. It takes time to learn the entrepreneurial lessons. – Mike Brown

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Years ago, I attended a services marketing conference sponsored by a prominent university. One professor made an intriguing claim: customers compare a brand’s performance on specific features to the best performance of any brand offering that same feature. The instructor pointed out a specific example of how this happens with customer expectations. If a brand were offering subpar, phone-based customer service, it wasn’t being compared exclusively to direct competitors who also offered horrendous phone-based customer service. He suggested that customers would compare a brand in this situation to the best customer service they experienced anywhere. This would happen irrespective of whether it was a brand from the same industry or a hotel, investment firm, or catalog company that wasn’t competing directly.

While his point resonated, there weren’t many direct examples to prove out his perspective. It made sense intuitively; you may also experience similar situations yourself. Yet, when we wanted to try to prove it for a B2B brand, we always wound up eliminating the necessary customer satisfaction survey questions to reduce survey time or research costs.

You Shouldn’t Be Surprised that Uber Is Ruining Customer Expectations for Your Business

In an article from The Wall Street Journal, subtitled, “Uber Users Flub Cab Rides,” writer Katherine Bindley highlights how individuals accustomed to app-based rideshare services don’t know how to behave in cabs (or even their own cars). Telling the driver your destination, waiting to find out the fare, and paying the driver are not part of the Uber or Lyft experiences, although they remain so for cabs. These new disruptive options have caused frequent rideshare customers to forget how cabs operate.

You might say that passengers forgetting how to use cabs because of rideshare brands is all in the same industry. Granted, it’s all about getting from one place to another. Yet, these examples reinforce an important point about strong brands with positive, radically different customer experiences: they can reshape expectations and behaviors even when a customer isn’t using the disruptive brand.

Understanding What Drives Customer Expectations

Are your customers’ expectations being set by your brand, a direct competitor, or an apparently unrelated brand? And how do you REALLY know what factors are driving changes in expectations?

If there is a possibility that disruptive brands are blowing up conventional customer experiences in your market, here is a checklist of tactics you can implement to attempt to remain ahead of the situation:

#1. Dig deep to understand what experience dimensions drive choice and preference

You need a robust understanding of what drives customers’ brand choices in your marketplace. One option is to ask these types of questions directly in surveys, sales calls, and customer service interactions. Doing that, however, leaves it to customers and prospects (if you interview them) to tell you what THEY think drives their choices. Their self-perceptions often place price at the top of the list, even if price isn’t the reason they prefer one brand over another.

A more effective way to tackle this question within a survey is a two-part approach. This involves asking questions about overall preferences for brands along with questions on how these brands perform on specific features. From the answers to all these questions, you can identify the relationship between how important each performance attribute is in predicting brand preference. This approach generally produces more reliable answers on what drives purchase and re-purchase.

Using this information, you can typically identify a smaller subset of features to monitor for performance levels within and outside your industry.

#2. Evaluate how industry competitors set and deliver high performance standards

Look inside your industry at various types of competitors (including high-profile, traditional, and potentially disruptive ones) to assess the performance claims and promises they make and deliver on preference-driving features. Explore their marketing materials, content marketing, and accessible customer communications. Conduct conversations with current and former customers and employees.

Through this evaluation, you will want to better understand:

  • What they say and demonstrate to set performance expectations among customers
  • How they deliver on expectations – both their processes and actual performance
  • How your own performance compares on each of the features

If possible, go beyond anecdotal performance accounts; become a customer of your competitors. This is easier done in consumer markets. In B2B, it may happen through some type of secret or mystery shopping. You might even engage a firm specializing in competitive intelligence to do this. No matter the means, there is nothing like actual usage experiences to help evaluate competitive performance levels.

#3. Look outside your industry for performance leaders on comparable features

Examine your list of preference-driving features. To the extent that they have meaningful comparisons in other industries, search out the highest-performing providers outside your market. You should be able to find far-flung examples of many features, including online or app access to services or information, responsiveness, timeliness, status or exception reporting, and accuracy, among others. Seek out any available information to understand top brands’ disruptive innovations, practices to set expectations, and performance levels.

Along with this, begin to routinely ask customers what brands they experience as providing the best service on your critical features. The objective is expanding your understanding of which brands may be impacting performance expectations in your customers’ minds.

It may be tougher to push for innovating your performance levels relative to players you don’t compete with directly. Still, you need only look at Amazon for a disruptive player that is upending industries in which it didn’t originally compete or even resemble any major players.

Taking the Next and Ongoing Steps to Managing Customer Expectations

If you decide to pursue this evaluation, it isn’t one-and-done. It involves an ongoing, periodic, commitment to maintain an understanding of performance expectations shaping your market in, as cab companies are discovering, potentially unexpected ways. – From Inside the Executive Suite

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Looking to Boost Customer Experience Innovation? Brainzooming Has an Answer!

Brainzooming Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Tools eBookBusiness growth can depend on introducing new products and services that resonate more strongly with customers and deliver outstanding value.

Are you prepared to take better advantage of your brand’s customer and market insights to generate innovative product ideas? The right combination of outside perspectives and productive strategic thinking exercises enables your brand to ideate, prioritize, and propel innovative growth.

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  • Incorporate market-based perspectives into your innovation strategy in successful ways

Download this FREE ebook to turn ideas into actionable innovation strategies to drive your organization’s comeback!


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A client raised a question about what more it can do to quicken its pace of innovation?

As with lots of innovation questions, my quick response was we have an eBook for that . . . and lots of articles, too!

Resources are a common barrier to innovation, download the Brainzooming innovation eBook, 16 Keys for Finding Resources to Accelerate Your Innovation Strategy. Accelerate will help you think about potential resources in dramatically new ways.

Other ways to quicken innovation include setting clear objectives, fine tuning the culture, speeding up insights and managing risk, better anticipating the future, and implementing for impact. We have links to articles on all these topics, plus a set of case studies from Disney, Estee Lauder, and Amazon. Here are links to nineteen Brainzooming articles on these topics:

Frame Your Innovation Landscape

Make Sure the Culture Is Working for Innovation

Speed Up Insights and Manage Risk

Better Anticipate the Future

Quickly Implement for Impact

Case Studies

Looking for Even More on Quickening the Pace of Innovation ?

Still looking for more on how to accelerate your innovation strategy? Contact us, and let’s discuss a faster path to new thinking, development, and market success for your innovation strategy!  – Mike Brown

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Find New Resources to Innovate!

NEW FREE Download: 16 Keys for Finding Resources to Accelerate Your Innovation Strategy

Accelerate-CoverYou know it’s important for your organization to innovate. One challenge, however, is finding and dedicating the resources necessary to develop an innovation strategy and begin innovating.

This Brainzooming eBook will help identify additional possibilities for people, funding, and resources to jump start your innovation strategy. You can employ the strategic thinking exercises in Accelerate to:

  • Facilitate a collaborative approach to identifying innovation resources
  • Identify alternative internal strategies to secure support
  • Reach out to external partners with shared interests in innovation

Download your FREE copy of Accelerate Your Innovation Strategy today! 

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This last trip has been one of not getting to see anything from the plane. The windows have been shut on every flight, it seems. Good for air conditioning, bad for sightseeing . . . They never hold a plane for me when my inbound flight is late . . . If you’re going to read mommy porn on a plane on your digital reader, MAYBE you want to put it at less than a 60-point font? Just thinking on that. Just thinking . . . I got on an earlier flight late last week, but the co-pilot, who was coming in on another flight (and aren’t all co-pilots coming in on some other flight) had no idea about his next assignment. So, despite what he said over the intercom, he was DAWDLING his way through Midway. Short trip, long? Most of the hour advantage I picked up on leaving early was pissed away by his big-time pokey walk.

I was trying to get the Wi-Fi to work on a plane the other day so I could register for the HubSpot Inbound conference. My computer and my phone both failed to connect. It was at that point that the guy sitting next to me (you know, the guy that kept opening and closing the window shade every 30 seconds during the flight) leaned over to inform me that his Wi-Fi was working fine. Grrrrrrrrr . . . Note to self: Build time into EVERY trip in Chicago to take photos for the Brainzooming stock photo library. There are amazing photos EVERYWHERE in the city with the big Instagram shoulders.

I need a random topic generator for this weekly article I write for another publication. The dread of coming up with a good topic is so great, we have a disease-sounding name for my weekly mid-week malady . . . You may not like puns, but they are a sound form of humor. Plus, homonyms are gaining broader recognition all the time . . . Sometimes when I’ve been flying early in the week, all I can write during a flight delay is one of these Larry King posts. #SorryNotSorry . . . Note to Apple: Nice manners with your auto-correct, but not every use of the word windows is capitalized . . . Twice on this trip it was a big decision while running down the terminal to catch a flight: go to the bathroom or get food. The bathroom always won. That may speak volumes.

From the HOW MUCH DO YOU WANT FOR THIS ROOM???? Department: I booked a room on Hotwire at a slightly cool hotel off of Michigan Avenue. It was nearly $400, and in true, we don’t give a shit about Hotwire buyers so we’ll give them the worst experience possible stories, it was a handicapped room. And the front desk attendant hardly informed me of anything at the hotel. All this for $400. My question: HOW MUCH DID YOU WANT ME TO PAY TO TREAT ME LIKE A REAL GUEST? . . . Speaking of not informing people, I flew Comfort+ on Delta this week, and feel like I missed out on the incredible benefits it’s supposed to offer. That is because if you don’t ask, Delta won’t offer them. Grrrrrrrrr.

Here’s something I can’t explain: in the midst of trying not to fritz out about the event manager’s lack of attention to detail, the absolutely right person shows up after a couple of year absence to help, be a great cheerleader, and provide a huge sense of calm . . . “You’re sort of okay, so this will probably be okay,” is NOT a life’s motto . . . I wish people came with screens that would show you their real intentions when they behave unusually . . . Why do smart people have to be so good at decoding what little sense of intrigue I can spin? Sheesh, WORK WITH ME HERE PEOPLE! Please, and thank you. – Mike Brown

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We can all use a butt kicking occasionally that provides a wake up call to dramatically improve our own confidence levels and performance.

I got one of those butt kickings last Tuesday morning via an opening keynote presentation by Amber Selking, PhD, at the International Thermprocess Summit. Dr. Selking is a Performance Consultant who focuses on “Building Championship Mindsets.”

It feels like I’ve been running on fumes for weeks (months?), and I was in Atlanta on too little sleep to close out the conference that afternoon with a talk on transitioning businesses and their intellectual capital from one generation of Idea Magnets to the next. Before the Tuesday session opened, I took a seat at the very back table, hoping to strike a balance between conserving energy, walking through the slides in this new talk, and identifying ideas and themes from other speakers’ talks to weave into the closing.Order Idea Magnets
That’s when Amber brought the message, the energy, and the call-to action that made everyone stop and think about what they are personally doing to improve themselves and their teams. Everyone walked away with a new and improved mindset.

I told her later how her talk challenged and scared me.  As I sat there needing to deliver the same energy and passion as Dr. Selking brought to her talk, I feared there was noooooooo waaaaayyyyyyy I could muster half of the enthusiasm she did. At one point later in the morning, I returned to my room to get my stuff and wondered aloud WHAT I was going to do in the next two hours to energize myself.

My concerns were heightened when the conference organizer told me right before I started my talk that she was looking for me to deliver the same impact as Amber had earlier in the day.

I guess Dr. Selking’s message really did land with me, because I found much more energy than I’d had that morning. The closing talk was interactive, had some fun moments, and challenged the audience to return home and make room for millennials to actively engage in sharing and learning new and conventional knowledge to take their companies forward.

Enough about me. Amber Selking, PhD has a podcast you need to check out, and a TEDx Talk that will give you a sense of the impact of her message.

Go find out about Amber Selking, PhD. She’s an Idea Magnet!

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When you decide to change your routine, you need to be prepared to make do. That can include bending the random into something strategic and on message.

Thus, the photo of the monkey, the cow, and the pig.

Heading to Chicago last week for a first in-person strategy workshop with a new client, I didn’t bring toys. Part of it was saving space. Part of it was being cautious working with a new client on a second-chance engagement and not wanting to start on the wrong foot. Part of it was wedging too many trips and separate client engagements into a seven-day period and neglecting to put toys on my travel checklist.

Dining with our client contact the night before, she mentioned her promise to the company’s CEO that the 1/2-day workshop would involve fun strategic planning. I told her I hadn’t brought any toys along, but that I would visit a store on the walk back to my hotel and buy some toys.

I mean, anything for fun strategic planning!

Fun Strategic Planning and 3 Stuffed Toys

This commitment to our client took me to Walgreens on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. I scoured the store for squeeze balls that the executives could safely throw at each other. Finding none, I bought these three stuffed toys, all of which originally had “I Love Chicago” shirts.

The next morning, as we set things up for the strategic planning workshop, I told the clients that each of the stuffed toys had a special purpose that they could call on to guide the workshop:

  • The monkey was for situations where I was moving quickly, and they wanted to spend more time. They could pick up (or throw) the monkey to signal the need to monkey around with ideas a little longer.
  • The bovine was for when we hit a sacred cow issue that needed to be challenged and not simply accepted as imperative.
  • The pig was for wildly innovative ideas that we should consider at future workshops, but were bogging down our progress since, at least right now, these ideas would only happen when pigs fly.

The moral of this little fun strategic planning story?

I didn’t have all those roles figured out when I bought the three stuffed animals. As I was shopping, it occurred to me that they should have some reason for being at the workshop. Using one of our core analogy-finding questions provided the basis to turn these random stuffed toys into a part of a strategic planning workshop.

Those connections were, in this case, part of turning a regular meeting into fun strategic planning. That’s what Brainzooming does! – Mike Brown

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If memory serves me, I saw actress Sally Field say one time on Inside the Actor’s Studio that performers must be skilled at applying mental sandpaper to themselves to quickly trigger the necessary emotion for a role or scene.

For whatever reason, as someone who has never had any hint of the acting bug, her comment stuck with me. It is probably because the idea of being able to instantly reach something important that is difficult for most to do is at the heart of the structures Brainzooming uses. All the strategic thinking exercises we’ve developed are focused on helping non-strategists become adept at strategy with very little preparation. All we ask is that anyone bring his or her knowledge, expertise and an open mind.

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6 Ways to Help Experts Realize What They Know

I’ve been thinking about this idea of mental sandpaper relative to a talk I’m giving this week on transitioning a business to the next generation of Idea Magnets.

The key point involves how an organization can prevent a huge part of its intellectual capital walk out the door as baby boomers retire in the next decade. One of the challenges in this knowledge transfer is that experts often lose sight of unique knowledge they know that others do not grasp. Working to identify ways to make experts realize other people don’t know things that they know is where the idea of mental sandpaper has been at the forefront of my mind for months.

What are some forms of mental sandpaper in this situation?

  • Having to teach what you know to someone else
  • Creating a presentation about your knowledge
  • Demonstrating what you do
  • Reviewing another expert’s perspective on what you know
  • Having the expert note gaps when someone with less experience explains the information or process at which they are expert
  • Starting over from scratch on a process that the expert typically only tweaks (as when a computer file you really need gets zapped)

Those are just a few ideas. If you have an expert Idea Magnet walking out the door soon and need to capture what they know, stock up on these variations on mental sandpaper and get to work! – Mike Brown

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