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Nook and cranny strategic thinking exercises.

I’d never thought of this term previously. Yet, they are vital. They help groups (or an individual) efficiently explore many more opportunities and ideas than they otherwise might.

The nook and cranny strategic thinking exercises term popped into my head during a Brainzooming client workshop. Three groups rotated through posters focused on their shared services organization’s internal branding. We had already identified its experience promise to internal clients. This new exercise translated its internal brand promise into specific behaviors its five-hundred employees will use to create the experience.

Each strategic thinking exercise poster had four or five brand dimensions on the Y-axis. The x-axis labels along the poster’s top featured three specific opportunities to deliver the attributes: at the initial engagement with internal clients, throughout ongoing work, and as a project wraps up.

You do the math with this strategic thinking exercise.

Five rows times three columns presented fifteen different opportunities within a matrix for participants in each of three groups to explore different phases of the experience promise. That meant more than forty perspectives from which to generate ideas for potential behaviors.

Someone asked if, after the small groups completed all the idea generation, we would leave them with all these cells worth of ideas.

My answer was, “No.”

The point of creating so many possible ways to think about brand behaviors WAS NOT to develop a bunch of answers pointing in varied directions.

Our objective? Use the forty-plus cells to push the team into exploring the nooks and crannies of brand behaviors. We will report back the summarized list of important behaviors to successfully bring the promise to life. The focused behaviors lead to implementing a robust, focused, and consistent experience for internal clients.

Whether it’s a bunch of cells, many different prompts for ideas, or questions that extend from incremental to extreme change, nook and cranny strategic thinking exercises are trying to do the same thing: create an efficient way to look at an opportunity from as many different perspectives as relevant and possible within a brief amount of time.

Want to make sure your team is looking at all the nooks and crannies of your strategy?

Contact us, and let’s adapt the concept to your specific organizational, brand, or innovation strategies. You’ll quickly see why we love the productivity of nook and cranny strategic thinking exercises so much! – Mike Brown

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The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions

Engage employees and customers with powerful questions to uncover great breakthrough ideas and innovative strategies that deliver results! This Brainzooming strategy eBook features links to 600 proven questions for:

  • Developing Strategy

  • Branding and Marketing

  • Innovation

  • Extreme Creativity

  • Successful Implementation


Download Your FREE eBook! The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions



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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Suppose you’re trying to come up with innovative ideas to introduce a new marketing program. You want to avoid doing the same old things you do for THAT type of marketing program every time you do that type of marketing program.

Want a quick idea for how to stretch your creative thinking to imagine many more marketing strategies to approach this opportunity in new ways?

Easily Rethink Your Status Quo Marketing Strategies

Here’s an answer to the question of innovating your marketing strategies: look at the opportunity as if it were any number of DIFFERENT types of marketing opportunities.

For instance, if you’re introducing a new B2B product by having your business development team making sales calls on current clients, you have a whole variety of other marketing strategies at your disposal.

Here are a few of the other ways to think about the launch: you could imagine the new product introduction as if it were:

  • An event
  • A campaign
  • An offer or a promotion
  • A content marketing strategy
  • A direct marketing program
  • A social and online engagement outreach strategy
  • An online presence
  • A sponsorship
  • A contest or game

Using this list of alternative ways to think about the product launch will yield many new marketing strategies. You might imagine:

  • A live launch webinar (event)
  • Integrating email and white papers to support the launch (campaign)
  • Providing a trial version of the product for a limited time (offer or promotion)
  • Introducing a series of articles discussing how customers helped shape the product development (content marketing strategy)
  • Teaser emails to targeted, high-potential customers (direct marketing program)
  • Videos demonstrating the new product sent in advance of every business development call (social engagement strategy)
  • A dedicated section of your website with early testimonials and more detailed information (online presence)
  • Introducing the product at an industry conference where you are a major partner (sponsorship)
  • A contest for early purchasers to compete for an incredible trip (contest or game)

See the possibilities?

All from deliberately thinking about a marketing program in ways that you never have before. Give it a try this week and reap the benefits!  – Mike Brown

Download our FREE eBook:
The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions

Engage employees and customers with powerful questions to uncover great breakthrough ideas and innovative strategies that deliver results! This Brainzooming strategy eBook features links to 600 proven questions for:

  • Developing Strategy

  • Branding and Marketing

  • Innovation

  • Extreme Creativity

  • Successful Implementation


Download Your FREE eBook! The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions



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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J.P. Morgan Chase has announced a new online brokerage platform called, You Invest. The app targets its more than 47 million customers with free brokerage services, including 100 free trades in the first year. Subsequent trades are $2.95, although customers with larger investment levels receive 100 free trades annually—or even unlimited trades.

Free trades from a brand charging $24.95 per trade a year ago?

The strategy change is dramatic and a disruptive business model, but hardly a surprise. Two years ago, the company’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, identified Amazon Prime as reference point for launching a platform offering free services. As Dimon said, “If you’re a good account, it’s no different than Jeff Bezos doing the $99 Prime and adding services to it.”

The tiered services levels, with additional free options beyond $15,000 and $100,000 in investments, suggest a blatant share growth strategy. Early tests suggest the app is drawing younger, newer traders.

Thinking about a Disruptive Business Model for Your Brand

via ShutterStock

How does a company without disruptive innovation in its corporate DNA imagine its own disruptive business model?

If this is your situation, here are thoughts on exploring the topic through incorporating varied perspectives and imperatives. These can help in taking the first steps toward disruption that will gain an early advantage.

If a Successful Brand Is Disrupting Successfully, Copy Its Disruptive Business Model

As is evident from Jamie Dimon’s comments, J.P. Morgan Chase looked to Amazon Prime as a disruptive business model for its own market. While not every disruptor is successful (and high-flying ones sometimes crash), you can look to those disruptive brands that are currently popular, such as Amazon, Apple, Uber, Airbnb, and Netflix, and see a pattern: create an inviting technology-based platform, provide people a place to behave, and generate seemingly endless data flows from their behaviors. Within the platform, invite other brands to contribute content, products, or other assets to speed the development of a full-fledged and attractive customer platform.

Using this model, explore where you’ll generate revenue. (It likely won’t be by charging current market rates for what your platform delivers.) Consider offering an attractive value package to maximize the amount of time, interest, and focus users devote to the platform. Possibilities include:

  • Offering additional services for free or at dramatic discounts (plus incentivizing pricing for those spending more time on your platform)
  • Providing a one-stop, never-have-to-go-anywhere else experience
  • Securing an upfront annual (or multi-year) financial or share commitment and dropping charges for ongoing activity
  • Extending more lenient, flexible customer service policies
  • Simplifying the engagement process to one step; two steps at most

Some of these offerings are explicitly price-based. Others simply lower costs for the brand to provide the service or reduce customer challenges. Both can contribute to greater value perceptions and reduce customer motivations to leave the platform for other options.

Where else can you generate revenue? To the extent that your platform is home to customer behaviors, you have data and insights with tremendous potential value. Consider everything Amazon knows about its customers’ search, shopping, and purchase behaviors. Or Facebook, about the personal networks, communication tendencies, and movement patterns of users. Or Uber, about the flow of people in major metropolitan areas. See the value there? That’s where you turn analysts (or data scientists) loose to identify:

  • The very best customers to secure with even greater value offerings
  • What else to offer customers individually and as a whole
  • Opportunities to sell access to other brands (even competitors) that want to market to the platform’s users

Generating additional value and revenue from data allows you to further subsidize the value of the platform’s consumer offering. This grows the platform’s attractiveness, making it tougher to leave.

It’s essentially the give-away-the-razor-and-sell-the-blades model, supercharged with data and technology.

Download Your FREE eBook! Disrupting Thinking - 13 Exercises to Imagine Disrupting Your Brand

Benefits, Capabilities, and Adjacent Markets

Another approach to imagining a disruptive business model is to consider the opportunity to innovate (and disrupt) based on customer benefits. The starting point for this exploration involves identifying your brand’s capabilities and the benefits you currently deliver. Ideally, you will have a healthy list of benefits from which to explore several paths:

  • How else can you deliver these benefits to your current customers with tremendously greater value? (This is a good opportunity to see how a platform model might fit.)
  • How can you break into a completely new market and deliver these benefits – whether it involves using current capabilities or new ones?
  • How can you imagine automating nearly everything you do to fundamentally change your cost dynamics, allowing you to super-size the benefits and value you deliver?

Each question can surface disruptive possibilities. This is especially true of the second question. Disruptors are often completely new to a market. They freely disrupt BECAUSE they have no vested interest in the industry’s status quo. They approach the market with completely new competitive dynamics.

Remember: These Are Thought Experiments

As mentioned earlier, these are thought experiments. We hope these questions pave the way to help your leadership team think sooner than later about the opportunities and threats involved in trying to adopt a disruptive business model for your brand. – From Inside the Executive Suite

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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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I love how many young professionals talk with me after keynotes and workshops seeking career advice about the challenges they are facing.

While the exchanges are typically brief, they are almost always with individuals who connected with the talk’s message and want to discuss what it means for them and where they are now, or where they would like to be in the future. Maybe it’s because I made such a dramatic career shift. Maybe it’s because they want to do what I do. Maybe it’s because NO ONE in their current organization’s is safe to talk with on career advice and pursuing their aspirations.

Whatever the reason, the challenge and opportunity of coming up with quick, on-the-spot career advice to answer their questions is exhilarating. It keeps me on my toes.

The most recent one, like so many others, was someone who wants to figure out the career plan B to make a big move away from her highly specialized job. She’s looking for something more fulfilling in her career.

3 Pieces of Career Advice to Begin Making a Career Change

Via ShutterStock

My suggestions for her, to the extent I can generalize and share them here:

  • Figure out a way to start sharing her expertise online, even if she must mask her current organization. It’s vital to build a repository of valuable content you can point people to for proof of your expertise, if not today, then in the future. Use the advantage of time to get started sooner than later.
  • Look for ways to start generalizing her specialized knowledge so she can apply it in other areas. This is especially true for people that want to make huge shifts in what they do. You can find ways to move much (if not all) that expertise with you to a future gig. There are always smart connections you can make between what you do now and what you want to do in the future. Figure them out and make all of them that make sense.
  • Get a copy of Idea Magnets. I know that sounds self-serving. Idea Magnets is the deepest long-form content we have on how to strengthen yourself as a creative business leader. And in this case, I told the person asking for advice that I’d send her a personal copy of Idea Magnets if she follows up with me.

For all the rest of you, here is my message: If you ever see me speak, please come up and say hello. Ask all the questions you want. I welcome the opportunity to offer more personalized advice than I ever can during a keynote talk. – Mike Brown

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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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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. Finally? 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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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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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.

Download this free, concise ebook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • 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!


Download Your Free Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking eBook

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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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! 

Download Your FREE Brainzooming eBook! Accelerate - 16 Keys to Finding Innovation Resources

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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