Look at your network now compared to last year. Have you dramatically expanded the number of people you can call or email and be reasonably sure you’ll get a response from them?

And that doesn’t mean from loading up on contacts inside your company using the “People You May Know” feature on LinkedIn. A network gains value through diversity – not from having 75% of your connections riding on the same economic train as you!

If your active network looks the same as it did last year, ACT NOW when ideally you don’t need your network’s benefits. Here are 12 potential ways to add not only numbers, but diversity to your network:

  • Join and actively participate in professional associations
  • Regularly attend (and even create) networking events and follow up on connections
  • Take on leadership roles in church, school, or alumni organizations
  • Deliberately try to network with other parents at kids’ activities
  • Write articles for publications within your industry
  • Speak publicly on topics of expertise for you (and if you’re reluctant to speak, join Toastmasters and get over your apprehensions)
  • Use Twitter to build a global network of people involved in topics of interest (Twitter Lists or WeFollow are great places to start)
  • Run for public office
  • Find and join groups focused on hobbies you enjoy
  • Share your expertise via social media - start a blog, comment on other blogs, record podcasts or video blogs
  • Start a second job where you interact more with the public
  • Strike up conversations with people you meet standing in line

And IMPORTANTLY, have business cards with you and introduce yourself to new people with your first and last names. I can’t believe how many people go to networking events and don’t have cards and/or introduce themselves by mumbling their first names.

Not all of these methods make sense for everyone. For my networking strategy, numbers 1, 2, 6, 7, and 10 have all been very effective at meeting great new people both online and in IRL (in real life), especially by starting to attend and even organize tweet-ups.

There are certainly several of these that will work for you, so pick and get started adding diversity to your network!   – Mike Brown

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at brainzooming@gmail.com or call 816-509-5320 to learn how we can get your Brainzooming!

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The Baskin Robbins Double Header Cone screams, “I came out of an innovation session!” That’s okay though because it appears from the outside-looking-in to have a solid customer experience-based strategic foundation.

An ice cream cone allowing multiple flavors and formats side by side lets customers preferring cones experience them in a new, fun way. Who can beat two different ice cream flavors and formats (soft serve and scoop) the way YOU want to combine them, instead of randomly (mashed scoops), sequentially (scoops on top of each other), or in a forced swirl (for soft serve)?

It’s fun for kids (who seemed to be the primary audience the day we were in Baskin Robbins) and probably makes a parent’s life a little saner (since it helps more easily please a kid wanting multiple flavors). For Baskin Robbins, it creates some near term buzz and introduces a new, slightly higher price point to upsell customers who’d typically only buy a single cone. Unfortunately, the poster’s fine print clearly states “no substitutions.” You can’t have two scoops or two soft serve flavors. The Double Header cone “fun” doesn’t extend to customer-driven innovation at the point of sale.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving (US-based readers), and be on the look-out for “out and about marketing” examples to share here! Brainzooming is taking a few days off and will be back Monday. – Mike Brown

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Product innovation is rampant. Great for providing choices! Crappy for having to choose from among them.
So it’s smart product strategy for brands to remove uncertainty and apprehension by making decisions simpler for consumers. Interestingly, today’s examples of doing this well both come from Sam’s Club – home of having to buy more than you’ll ever need to get a good deal (especially for a two-person household).
Shopping for cheaper deodorant, the main brand switching factor was getting a product smelling close to my current choice (or at least not smelling weird). This sealed four-pack of Degree deodorant had a great per unit price. But who likes a great deal on 4 deodorants only to find out after buying it that it smells like perfume?

How to avoid this deal breaker? Ingenious marketing to the rescue!

This multi-pack included a scratch-and-sniff label on the left of the package allowing me to smell the deodorant before buying. It was close enough, and I switched brands.
Cyndi was getting an early jump on shopping for Christmas baking as she’s planning to make hundreds of chocolate chip cookies (among other things). A pallet in the middle of one aisle featured a great buy on 72 ounce bags of Nestle Semi-Sweet “Morsels,” the chocolate chips of Nestlé® TOLL HOUSE® cookie recipe fame.

She asked how many bags she’d need since the recipe called for 12 ounces of chocolate chips. Doing the math in my head, I looked over to the stack of chocolate chips to see the math clearly displayed on the packaging: these big bags are good for 6 batches of cookies each. Since math skills are probably declining at the same rate product proliferation is increasing, how innovative to simplify the math and create happier cookie makers.

And by the way Nestlé®, maybe you should up the recipe to 18 ounces of chocolate chips? That’s 50% more in sales for you and even happier cookie eaters! – Mike Brown

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Admission – I quickly grow impatient (yet only slightly unruly) in crowded stores.

Fortunately, my Flip camera has helped keep me out of trouble recently (kind of like Cheerios for geeky adults), creating amusement in finding great marketing strategy examples to capture.

To get you ready for the time spent in stores this week for Thanksgiving preparation and Black Friday, we’ll share a few “out and about marketing” examples this week. Be on the look-out for ones you see and submit them as future guest Brainzooming posts!

Merchandising Can Be Experience Marketing

Why have boring grocery store displays when they can be colorful, fun, and create memorable visual experiences? These two stacks of soft drink boxes for Coca-Cola products are from two local grocery stores – Price Chopper (left) and Hy-Vee (right).

While the pumpkin at Price Chopper was just plain fun, the Hy-Vee display was a top-five highlight for the Kansas City Chiefs this season!

Taking the Experience Home

This product makes me both proud and ashamed to be in marketing.

Talk about turning a generic category (tater tots) into an experience for multiple audiences. These Ore-Ida ABC Tater Tots are innovation rock stars on multiple levels!

For parents, they combine two high interest experiences – learning and getting kids to eat. For kids who enjoy school, they’re great fun; for those that hate school, it allows them to work out a little aggression on these dreaded Sesame Street sponsors. Plus, I love how easily you can imagine the idea coming straight out of a Trait Transformation exercise!

So why do they also make me ashamed to be a marketer?

Because they’re tater tots! How much cool brand experience does it take to get ANYBODY, let alone kids, to eat tater tots? I LOVE tater tots, but they’re not “trainer-approved.” So how about applying cool brand experience strategy to vegetables and fruits that are less processed, less fun, and healthier! – Mike Brown

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I met John Digles in June 2009 as he produced video interviews for the Business Marketing Association Conference. John’s background is fascinating; he’s an award-winning film maker whose work has gained critical notice, including at the Sundance Film Festival.

John is also founder of entrepreneurial incubator StrategyDeli and sits on the DePaul University Marketing MBA Advisory Council. As Chief Marketing Officer of XanGo, John implemented a number of innovative programs, including:

John is also founder of entrepreneurial incubator StrategyDeli and sits on the DePaul University Marketing MBA Advisory Council. As Chief Marketing Officer of

  • Negotiating a category-creating jersey-front deal with Major League Soccer
  • Creating the award-winning XanGo.TV social media site
  • Leading an international marketing program in more than 25 markets

John’s innovative track record earned him an invitation to address the WFDSA World Conference XIII in Singapore.

Sponsorships represent great marketing opportunities if approached strategically and with activation plans fitting a brand’s business objectives. Today, John shares his perspective on how XanGo put together an innovative sponsorship program that’s led to the brand being featured in tonight’s Major League Soccer championship on ESPN:


Jersey-front sponsorships are a long-running international soccer tradition. Global corporations such as Samsung and bwin invest millions supporting top teams and showcasing their brands on the playing fields of the world’s most popular sport. But when XanGo, a 4-year old emerging nutritionals leader and direct sales company based in Utah, inked the first jersey-front sponsorship in U.S. Major League Soccer history in November 2006, it was the first of its kind in North American professional sports.

The innovative deal to place the XanGo brand on the jersey-front of Real Salt Lake (RSL) was a perfect fit for the XanGo healthy lifestyle brand and its reputation as a “company of firsts.” We faced risks, however, that come with introducing this kind of advertising. Some wondered if American soccer fans would accept a branded jersey, while others considered a direct sales company an unlikely sponsor.

Exploring the jersey sponsorship, we formulated an activation program designed to mobilize hundreds of thousands of independent XanGo distributors and “make every game a home game” for RSL. Reaching a new consumer constituency would provide opportunity for distributors to teach the business as they filled the stands and hosted their own events at local soccer matches.

XanGo rolled out with an advanced digital strategy and a branded web site celebrating the game and teaching soccer basics. Research showed the site became a destination for parents whose kids were discovering soccer and joining leagues across the country. Many of these visitors learned about XanGo for the first time.

XanGo distributors and employees made RSL’s branded kit one of the league’s top-selling jerseys. FIFA Soccer by EA Sports, one of the world’s most-popular video games, featured XanGo on the jersey of the game’s RSL team. And the XanGo Cup hosted friendly exhibitions between RSL and international soccer superpowers – and their TV audiences.

Measurement data showed the jersey deal became a key factor in boosting global brand recognition, web traffic, and recruitment.

Weeks after the XanGo sponsorship announcement, David Beckham signed with the L.A. Galaxy and global nutrition and direct sales company Herbalife secured the next jersey-front deal. Jersey sponsorships with major brands followed around the league, including BMO with Toronto FC, Best Buy with the Chicago Fire, and Amway Global with the San Jose Earthquakes.

Network marketing is a passionate, loyalty-driven business. As direct sales brands cut their jersey deals, distributors from each sponsoring company became more vocal and competitive in showing support.

Three years after the first jersey-front deal, Real Salt Lake and the L.A. Galaxy have reached the MLS Cup, taking two direct sales titans to the league’s biggest stage.

While the category-creating deal surprised some, the trend of direct sales sponsorships has aligned thriving nutrition brands with the game, increased consumer awareness of the business and converted millions of passionate distributors into active fans for Major League Soccer. – John Digles

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Today’s guest post addressing preparing for 2010 comes from Barrett Sydnor, one of the first guest authors ever on Brainzooming back in early 2008. I’ve worked with Barrett on various strategic planning projects over the past 15 years, including quite a bit of quantitative industry analysis and supply/demand forecasting.

Today, he’s addressing the right marketing stance to have during and coming out of a recession:

Fortune Favors the Bold.

The Roman playwright Terence wrote that in the 2nd century BC, though Virgil often gets credit because a similar line later appears in the Aeneid. Terence was probably talking about the military strategy of some emperor, but it turns out that the sentiment applies to businesses—small and large—as they face figuring out how to plan for 2010.

A natural tendency when looking at bad or uncertain times is to hunker down, keep spending to a minimum, and stay with what you have done in the past. Natural, but maybe not smart.

A Hurwitz & Associates report found that 65% of small businesses that expected increased revenues during 2009 had raised or planned to increase marketing spending. Increased revenues were expected by only 30% of those who were keeping marketing spend flat, and almost half (41%) of those who were cutting marketing spend were expecting a decrease in revenue.

This correlates with a study done at Penn State after the 2000 recession. The authors say that using what they call “proactive marketing” can allow firms to improve both capital market and business performance during a recession. They cite increased marketing spending by P&G, Kellogg, Intel, and Wal-Mart during recessions—and depressions—as a way to grab or consolidate dominant market shares.

For sports fans, one way to restate “Fortune Favors the Bold,” is “The Best Defense is a Good Offense.” You might ask, “How did that work out for Bill Belichick and the Patriots against the Colts?” While the execution lacked, he had the science—and the odds on his side (discussion here, here, and here).

In planning, as in coaching football, getting the odds on your side is really is what you are trying to do. Being more aggressive with your 2010 plan may be the way to tilt those odds in your favor. – Barrett Sydnor

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I’m a proponent of spreading strategic thinking broadly in a company and not readily handing off strategy development to outside parties exclusively. Yet I’ve been a part of many examples where an outside perspective helped move strategic planning  development ahead much more quickly.

3 Real Life Strategic Planning Successes

Here are several examples you may be facing related to strategic planning where it’s good to get outside expertise:

Turning Talk Into Strategic Planning Progress

A small subsidiary’s three-person management team was told to get a strategic plan in place to show corporate management the company’s direction. They had no strategic planning process and only ten business days to deliver a comprehensive strategic plan. We brought in the Brainzooming process to develop an innovative strategic plan in one day. The output couldn’t be simply a bunch of ideas nor could it be only a rote plan with little strategic insight.

Structuring a day-long session using question-based exercises allowed the team to answer questions about the business, participate in exercises to stretch strategic perspectives on competition and opportunities, and come back the next morning to make people and timing decisions on a tight plan to share with the operating president.

As non-planners, they wouldn’t have been able to put together a coherent strategic planning document in ten days, but they did understand their business and the general direction they needed to head. We combined their deep knowledge with strategic thinking exercises and facilitation allowing us to challenge and create a strategic plan from their answers. We delivered the best of both worlds – a structured plan reflecting their intent for the business with sound strategic logic and more innovation than they’d have ever brought to it alone. This experience demonstrated the clear benefit of the emerging Brainzooming process.

Stimulating a Management Team that Knows It All

We rolled into town to help a really experienced senior management team tackle annual strategic planning. Because of their tenure and smarts, they knew the company inside- out. This knowledge rendered them ill-suited to solving a long-term growth challenge: as every idea was uttered, they “knew” why it wouldn’t work for the brand.

During the course of a day-long planning session, I created a new exercise on the fly based on a brand in a very different industry sharing the same fundamental characteristics of our client. I asked the group to suggest how this other company could address the same challenge they were facing. All of a sudden ideas started flowing non-stop. We were able to take the concepts and strategically apply them to their business.

Left on its own to think strategically, the management team would never have reached an alternative look at its business. An outside perspective, unburdened by excessive detail was critical to identifying an analogous situation, providing an entree for innovative strategic thinking and implementation.

Doing the Thinking for a Distracted Management Team

We had a pre-scheduled planning follow-up with a management team who, since our initial session, had been charged with exploring a major brand contraction. Unable to convince them their new assignment should be the focus for our session, we instead spent time addressing the status quo scenario. Unfortunately, the status quo wasn’t likely or compelling enough to command much of their attention and strategic creativity.

Frustrated by the lack of intensity while addressing the status quo, we wrapped the effort early. We told them we’d work on the status quo scenario, delivering 200 prioritized, fleshed out ideas and concepts within 3 days. Using several creativity techniques during the flight home, we generated really strong creative concepts for the status quo or, with some modification, for the alternative scenario also.

This was a great example of the importance of a balanced group in doing the best strategic thinking. The client’s management team had business experience and functional knowledge, but was sapped of any creative energy it ever had. Bringing in outside talent for a creative spark was needed to turn lackluster thinking into vibrant, implementable ideas.  – Mike Brown


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If you’re struggling to lead a viable strategic planning effort, The Brainzooming Group can be the strategic catalyst you need. We will apply our strategic thinking, innovation, and implementation tools on to help you create greater organizational success. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call  816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you figure out how to work around planning and implementation challenges.

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