You may have heard about the Kansas City blizzard last weekend. So much for the first day of Spring! Shoveling the wet, heavy snow on Sunday prompted building a snowman for the first time in years. And of course, the experience turned into a quick video creativity lesson. – Mike Brown

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Raise your hand if you’re trying to hit plan with fewer marketing resources than you had last year or the year before. Okay, that looks like just about everybody; put your hands down.

Knowing what specific strategy works may be difficult to determine, but here are 12 strategies you should consider when facing limited marketing dollars and people:

  • Don’t make across the board cuts – it’s easy to do the math, but it leads to crappy results. Go all in on high potential, innovative strategies and cut others out completely.
  • Stop doing things that don’t add value for customers. Ask them what they don’t use or need, and especially find out what you do they’re not even aware of. All candidates for elimination.
  • Don’t eliminate your thinking time. It’s easy (and stupid) to think you can stop strategic thinking as a way to save time and get on with implementation. With fewer resources, you’ll need planning to make sure you get things right the first time. It’s painful and costly to fix screw-ups once you discover them in-market.
  • Set your goals higher to force radically re-considering how you deliver for customers.  It seems contradictory, but stiffer goals will push you to explore what really matters and what you’re willing to sacrifice today for potential success tomorrow.
  • Figure out who else in your organization has appropriate talents & might want to help grow the business.  A lot of times people are looking for new ways to contribute, grow, and develop strategically when there aren’t dollars for training.
  • Build on strategies you already have in place. Don’t needlessly create new messaging with no built-in awareness. Even something generally on strategy may work harder for you than the perfect strategy which requires starting from scratch in getting customers to understand it.
  • Beyond using what you already have in place, see if strategies that have worked previously might be right to pull out again. Chances are if a strategy resonated before, some part of your audience will remember it, making the sell-in easier.
  • Also test some innovative concepts you explored before but never used. Is now the time to try them out in a new market situation?
  • As you plan your marketing strategy, make sure everything you do is designed to create multiple impacts. You have to get more from what you do if you’re going to be successful. It’s too expensive to pursue strategies which will work in only one-off market situations.
  • Make sure you’re taking advantage of every customer contact to test, learn, and/or adjust your marketing mix. You may not have dollars for formal research, so you need to learn as much as you can every day, even if the learning methods are non-traditional. Adjust and learn what you can.
  • Stretch your team in new ways to make them stronger performers and better leaders. Muscles get stronger when you challenge them repeatedly. Same with people and teams.
  • Strengthening muscles also need time to recover if they’re going to get bigger. Same with people and teams. Make time to celebrate great contributions and the wins you deliver to help sustain and motivate your team.

Those are my twelve. What would you add to the list? – Mike Brown

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At the invitation of Brainzooming email subscriber Terry Kincheloe, I attended the second 2010 meeting of KairosAnalytics, a Kansas City-based web analytics strategy forum last Thursday. Tony Fortner, Consumer Experience Strategist at Sprint, presented on “Social Engagement Strategy.”

In the course of laying out his perspective, Tony covered culture, values, economic theory, World of Warcraft, strategy creation, the challenges of measuring social community business impacts, plus a few anecdotes on the internal politics at Sprint. Needless to say, it was an evening full of stimulating strategy ideas!

Rather than trying to play back notes from all of Tony’s presentation, here are a few takeaways:

  • So much of creating a vibrant online community strategy goes back to culture, values, and much of what we were taught as children: decency, helping one another, the golden rule, keeping your “hands clean”, loyalty, trust, etc.
  • Tony commented about feeling ethically bound to “say something” when a decision was being considered which would harm a customer. This creates a clear distinction for me. I’d place the emphasis on being bound to protect customers by actually stopping a harmful action. “Saying something” can be a self-serving exercise (esp. when you walk away in frustration), when what’s really needed is creating a positive result from the discussion.
  • For many (most?) companies, embracing the idea of a real community goes beyond innovation and is a radical strategy. If you’re trying to introduce a new, visionary strategy such as this inside a company, be sure to match up with someone who excels at the steps it will take to make it happen. And if implementation is your strong suit, go out of your way to align with someone who can communicate the strong vision necessary for the organization to make strategic changes necessary to be successful with a community.
  • Despite all the discussion on best practices, real learnings often come from the ends of the spectrum, not the middle. To understand where things are headed, look toward the people and companies pushing the limits.
  • Not every brand is going to win with a social community strategy. Some pre-existing business models simply aren’t going to fit with the innovation imperatives a community-based strategy implies. It’s clear some businesses are going to lose because of social networking-driven strategic change.

It was a great session. In July, I’m speaking to KAIROS on what could ostensibly be seen as the same topic Tony addressed – social media and strategy. Because there are so many ways to address the topic, it was reassuring to see our angles will be complementary, but different enough to have new things to say. – Mike Brown

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Last Tuesday’s post was on using your five favorite movies to discover your innovative character. It received some great tweets and spurred fun exchanges on Twitter. Lesley Heizman, a Curriculum Technical Specialist for the Blue Valley School District in the Kansas City area, was nice enough to share her list of movies and what she learned about herself from the exercise:

The Brainzooming post on finding your own innovative character has me thinking – what would MY character be???

Lately I find myself unsatisfied with my career but not knowing what direction I want to head.  I’ve taken tests and read articles that talk about doing your best work at the current job you have to figure out what you love and what stimulates you, but it seems so long since I’ve been inspired by something I think to myself, “What do I like anymore? What challenges me? What are my strengths?”

I feel like I’m not sure!  I feel creatively blocked.  My mojo is gone.  So, I’m taking the Innovative Character challenge.

My 5 favorite movies:

  • “Old School” – Another comedy I love-seeing a pattern here? I think I have the movie taste of a high school boy.
  • “Ocean’s 11″ – I love the cast of characters in this movie and just the whole “feel” of the movie.

Looking at my movies and thinking about what they have in common, these things occur to me:

  • They all have teams of people working towards a specific goal. In “The Hangover,” they are trying to find their friend. In “Gone in 60 Seconds,” they are stealing a list of cars. In “Ocean’s 11,” it’s outsmarting a casino.
  • Humor. Oh, the characters! Basher in “Ocean’s 11,” Donny Astricky in “Gone in 60 Seconds,” Vince Vaughn as Bernie Campbell in “Old School.”  It takes quite an expert to outsmart a casino or steal a specific list of cars in 24 hours. They all get bonus points for doing it while having a sense of humor.
  • Each movie has a character who is bucking the traditional and doing what they want. In “Quantum of Solace,” Daniel Craig is taking down the thief in his own way, screw the MI5. In “Ocean’s 11″ they are stealing from a famous casino in which no one has been successful stealing from before.  In the “Hangover,” Zach Galifianakis sings to his own tune.

So, what does this tell me about myself?

When thinking about these qualities in relation to my current career, some of it does make sense. Often I am training people or doing projects where people might feel uncomfortable, using humor a lot to relieve some of that tension.  I love being the expert at a topic – give me something to learn, I will quickly pick up on it and be able to teach others how to do it.  I love working in teams.

Some things my characters taught me?

I don’t do well with vague situations or goals. I need specific goals to work toward or get frustrated.  I need to start looking at more non-traditional ways to do the work I’m doing.  Employers that let their staff to do their work on their own time or devise interesting ways to do old tasks fascinate me. As I get older and start a family, I want my work to be important. Anytime I’m working is taking time away from my family, and if it’s not something I love it simply doesn’t feel worth it.  Perhaps taking a non-traditional career path could help me out in this department?

Anyway, it was a very interesting exercise that got my creativity flowing for a bit!  Slowly I can feel it coming back….it’s been lost for too long. – Lesley Heizman

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Often, the challenge isn’t getting good, new ideas. It’s hanging on to them long enough to do something about them! Today’s guest article from Franis Engel addresses that very challenge.

Franis (@learncreativity on Twitter) thinks everyone is talented. She specializes in making complexities simple, innovating about how the Alexander Technique can be taught faster to groups. A high idea-producer, she can Twitter and tele-host simultaneously, and is planning a podcast series featuring the interesting secret geniuses she’s collected as friends. You can find out more about her multi-talented adventures from the Big Island of HI and beyond at http://www.franis.org.

So here are five of Franis’ great strategies for capturing more cool ideas before they simply disappear:

Why don’t more people preserve their ideas and do something with them? Turns out expressions of futility are many.

One reason is there’s a part of the brain that actively disregards what doesn’t match expectations. Another part of the brain deletes the anomalies, since they don’t match. What if these brain parts happen to be particularly active? Well, let’s just say most people have an average of 45 seconds to get a good idea down before it goes “poof.” That’s an average. Some people are on to the next thought much faster. So for them, it’s not particularly possible to catch these fleeting possibilities.

That’s where you come in. Someone who already knows the advantages of capturing great ideas can encourage a beginner at innovation to do the same for themselves by showing them how easy it is. For example:

  • To get ideas down more quickly, learn speed writing. EasyScript has only five rules, making it easy to learn and remember. Using it, I’m able to write, with pencil in hand, about as fast as someone can type. It’s so much less intimidating when you’re scribbling something while someone is talking. This means in a living room conversation, suddenly the person who’s eloquent (but gets “microphone fever”) has the evidence you wrote down that makes it so.
  • Often, there’s writing already going on; all that’s needed is compiling it. What about those chats with such interesting links you trade back and forth? Skype collects these chats in its history. Just copy and compile them into a blog. We know that blogging isn’t hard, but many people don’t. Make it a private blog and invite them to share the editing.
  • Every answering machine has a “memo” feature. Learn to use it and transcribe later. Google Voice also has this feature; it spits out WAV file that gets sent to you by email.
  • What about collecting words that you hear people use in new ways or words that you’ve never heard before? A friend of mine started keeping a book thirty years ago of quotes from the interesting, funny, and notable things people he knew personally were saying. It’s still amusing today. How much cooler it would be to tweet what your friends say than already published quotes! There are even services that compile your Twitter stream in various ways. You can start a #hashtag and Twapperkeeper will save them for you.
  • From a time when I rented a place from a misogynist landlord who used to regularly threaten me over the phone, I hit on the idea of collecting his insults. As I did, customer service departments found that collecting a list of complaints/excuses and celebrating the originals took the sting out of them, making them irreverently funny.

So, while you’re writing down your own brilliant ideas, take some time to sing the praises of others. Even if they drop the baton you’re passing, at least you’ve got another interesting collection to blog. – Franis Engel

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A senior sales executive asked me for strategic questions his sales team could use to do a better job of satisfying customers and identifying opportunities for his B2B company to solve. Probably as a surprise to him, the 10 question list I created had only a few questions specific to his company’s business category. Instead, the questions focused much more directly on what a potential customer’s business is, its processes, and how a company’s strategy creates or shuts off business opportunities.

Having shifted to a more direct business development focus now, I find myself going back to these 10 questions. Since it’s much easier to find them online than searching through old presentations, here they are for you to modify and use as well:

  • What are your biggest business challenges?
  • What are your company’s goals & how do you fit into them?
  • Who are your best consumers/vendors? How do you sell to/buy from them?
  • Who is your best service provider (not necessarily in our category) & what do they do to make you more successful?
  • Is there a gap between how much time you spend on activities related to our service/product & how much you want to? Why?
  • How (& how frequently) do you make decisions about which providers you are going to use in our category?
  • Why did you start using us?
  • Why do you continue to use us?
  • What do we do that makes your biggest business challenges more difficult?
  • What do we do to help solve your biggest business challenges?

I’d love to hear how they work (or don’t work) for you in looking for more strategic opportunities with your clients. If you have other questions you find effective in unlocking business opportunities, please share those as well – Mike Brown

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Metrics strategy is a vital topic relative to innovation. Despite how important metrics strategy is, it’s a challenging one for many businesses when it comes to innovation. Going back through my own experiences and secondary research on the topic, here are a few starting thoughts on developing what we call a “whole-brain” approach:

Begin developing your innovation metrics strategy by determining what factors drive ROI.

Specifically identify which factors increase positive business returns and which reduce necessary investment. Starting with the end result in mind will better align the overall effort toward delivering a positive return on investment.

Adopt a “whole-brain metrics” orientation.

This means consciously trying to capture both quantitative (left brain) and qualitative (right brain) metrics. Doing so, you satisfy the financial and performance-oriented need for numerical targets and tracking. Adding qualitative measures into the equation, however, also provides the basis to match the numbers with stories, images, and other insights, providing a more complete performance picture.

Within the whole-brain approach, consider three distinct types of metrics related to innovation.

  • Culture Metrics – If your innovation efforts are part of an overall push to instill a more innovative approach to a department, business unit, or company, culture-based measures help track how solidly the effort has taken hold. Quantitative metrics in this area may be more activity-oriented, i.e., how many people are participating in innovation efforts and what percent of employees have been trained in creative or strategic thinking disciplines. Qualitative elements can tie to success stories on personal & professional development or other workplace-based changes.
  • Process Metrics – The second group of measures relate to systematic innovation activities.  Quantitatively, it could be how many ideas have been developed or are in various parts of the innovation pipeline. Longer term, it could incorporate how many patents have been filed and received. Qualitative measures in this area might relate to process learnings or images / descriptions of prototypes developed through innovation efforts.
  • Return-Based Metrics – The third group includes ROI, ROC, new products/services as a percent of sales, etc. Here too though, it’s important to augment the quantitative measures with qualitative elements, such as success stories, learnings (from both successes and mistakes), and customer comments (letters, email, online and social media-based responses, etc.).

This is hardly an exhaustive treatment on innovation metrics strategy, but it can be a good starter for expanding what you’re doing now. If, however, you’re doing more currently in this area, then please share what’s working for you.  – Mike Brown

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