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The folks over at “Inside the Executive Suite” from Armada Corporate Intelligence addressed an important aspect of customer experience strategy this week: turning your organization’s claims of customer focus into real actions.

The following ideas (condensed from the original Armada article) highlight four ways to bring your aspirational customer experience strategy to life.

Customer Experience Strategy: 4 Ideas for Creating Customer Focus

In a Bloomberg Businessweek interview with GE CEO, Jeff Immelt, he comments, not surprisingly, multiple times on GE embracing a customer focus. He mentions that even GE narrowing its business portfolio ties to its customer focus: managing unrelated businesses is challenging and demonstrates more of a brand-first than customer-first perspective.

Immelt also discussed the GE transformation toward becoming a digital and software player. Immelt ties the strategic shift, without using the phrase, to the Internet of Things: GE jet engines have hundreds of sensors streaming performance information. Rather than standing by, GE wanted to play a vital role in modeling the data, turning it into actionable knowledge for customers.

Decisions that Benefit Customers

The idea of customer focus is easy to say, but challenging to implement.

To make the concept more actionable, however, let’s posit this idea: one meaningful way to demonstrate customer focus is through helping customers improve their own situations – whether or not it helps a company’s own prospects.

This implies looking at business decisions from a customer’s viewpoint, not the company’s view. While that is natural for some organizations, it runs completely counter to business practices in many others. To stimulate your thinking about what this approach could look like in your organization, here are questions and potential responses for boosting your organization’s customer focus.

1. Making Customers Better Buyers

Think about the price comparison tool Progressive Insurance ads feature. To keep potential customers from third-party sites, Progressive offers competitive price comparisons, even though it does not always win. This is scary for companies. It seems unnatural to boost a competitor’s visibility, but consider how it could improve both customers’ situations and your brand.

Questions to Explore

  • How can we facilitate easier and more accurate buying comparisons for customers?
  • In what ways can we help customers buy ONLY what they need ONLY when they need it?

Your Customer Experience Strategy Response

If you suspect your brand will not fare well in competitor comparisons, explore product and / or service enhancements to improve your position. You can also identify other features and benefits to incorporate into the comparisons to show the true benefit of your brand relative to the competitive set.

2. Creating Smarter Customers

In Immelt’s example with GE, jet engine sensors provide the opportunity to boost customer knowledge in myriad ways. They offer current diagnostics, forward-looking indicators, and long-term trend data. Can the Internet of Things or other information flows provide the same types of insight benefits for your customers?

Questions to Explore

  • Where can we inform customers with performance and exception data they do not currently have access to with our products?
  • How can our products provide visibility to customers where they cannot easily get it right now?
  • In what ways can we deliver predictive information to customers?

Your Customer Experience Strategy Response

These questions challenge you to deliver better information to customers. This can improve their effectiveness, productivity, and growth potential. For your organization, it opens possibilities for new services to interpret the slew of data, further increasing the customer benefits you deliver.

3. Making Customers More Productive

Organizations seem increasingly open to radically different ways of accomplishing basic and advanced business functions. Look beyond your company’s own boundaries to imagine new ways you can enable customers to improve their productivity levels.

Questions to Explore

  • How can we take on new functions for customers to allow them to extend their reach and impact?
  • Where are steps we can remove from our processes that don’t provide value to customers?

Your Customer Experience Strategy Response

Simplification can be a very attractive market position. Simplify life for your customers, whether doing more for them or making them do less when they work with your organization.

4. Providing Greater Value

Many organizations bundle products and services to sustain higher price points. Too often, that’s accomplished through including features that are inexpensive to provide yet offer little additional impact for customers. This is an opportunity to rethink your approach.

Questions to Explore

  • What are ways to unbundle what we offer so it better fits with customer needs, usage, and buying preferences?
  • Are there more attractive bundles from a customer viewpoint?
  • How can we cut the market price of what we offer by ½ to dramatically boost customer value?

Your Customer Experience Strategy Response

These questions cause you to decouple market price from the cost to produce what you offer. Building your price around the customer and the marketplace forces you to re-engineer what you do to achieve the lowest possible cost. That’s a competitively strong way to increase margins vs. simply tacking on an increase to current prices.

A Starting Point for Your Customer Experience Strategy

Not all these areas apply to all companies. If your organization is truly customer-focused, however, tackling these questions will do more to move your brand in that direction than simply telling people you focus on customers. – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 

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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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I needed a new way to express myself last night. That’s why instead of typing out nine strategic thinking questions from various business conversations (and contemplations) so far this week, I decided to Sharpie marker and share them with you in this image. (Thanks Diane Bleck for inspiring a different approach to expressing my thoughts!)

It’s still early. Are you looking a little behind, a lot ahead, and sufficiently minding what’s going on right now to exceed your expectations for this year?

Do you know . . .

These are strategic thinking questions our clients are asking. We’re also asking them ourselves – while there’s still time to influence this year’s results!  – Mike Brown

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The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions

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  • Innovation

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  • Successful Implementation


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One of the most popular Brainzooming blog posts the past few years is rich in strategic thinking tools. It features more than 200 strategic thinking questions we’ve gathered, envisioned, and created going back to The Brainzooming Group origins as a corporate strategic planning department.

The Brainzooming Group has created and published many more questions since then as part of our portfolio of strategic planning tools. We decided recently to update the post. While doing so, we realized we’d added nearly four hundred more questions since the article’s original publication date.

Strategic Planning Tools – 600 Most Powerful Strategic Thinking Questions

Rather than hit you with an updated mega-post of 600 questions, we decided to compile the links, organize them, and share the update with you in an easier-to-use eBook: The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions (The Brainzooming Group Uses. So far.)

This eBook’s questions cover the areas we address here and in our client work, including:

  • Organizational strategy
  • Innovation
  • Branding, naming, and marketing
  • Customer experience
  • Creativity
  • Implementation

While you may associate strategic planning tools with year-end activities, you will use and find these question links valuable throughout the year. They will help you:

  • Stretch and re-orient conventional thinking
  • Stimulate creativity (even among people not seeing themselves as creative)
  • Improve meeting efficiency and effectiveness
  • Align diverse activities to common strategic themes

And since we use what we publish, we’ve already found having the eBook on a phone helpful. You can quickly link to questions when you are in a meeting that isn’t delivering the results you expect. Pop open the eBook and grab a question or two to orient everyone toward more productive discussions.

Yes, we’re serious: these are the links to our 600 most powerful strategic thinking questions, all in one of the best strategic thinking tools you’ll download for FREE all year long! – 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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What are basic brand strategy moves to quickly take an older brand into today’s market?

An “Inside the Executive Suite” article from Armada Corporate Intelligence looked at this brand strategy question last month. They evaluated the options for the band Depeche Mode. The group is making a “comeback” and incorporated a variety of brand strategy approaches to freshen its brand.

An Old Brand Is Just an Old Brand – Until to You Do Something New with It – via Armada Corporate Intelligence

Depeche Mode, a 1980s and 90s alternative band, is discussing a new record and tour. The group, known for hits such as, “People Are People,”  “Personal Jesus,” and “Enjoy the Silence,” announced its newest record, “Spirit,” six months in advance along with a twenty-one country tour during mid-2017.

Depeche Mode has remained active since its biggest hits decades ago. This week’s announcement, however, seems to represent a new push to return to greater prominence.

What makes an old product new again?

We raised the question yesterday of how brands rekindle, dust off, improve, innovate upon, and reintroduce themselves to the market. The Depeche Mode update involves multiple brand strategies:

  • Involving a new producer and tech music luminaries
  • Putting the brand into new formats
  • Ramping up promotional elements
  • Playing up pure nostalgia

If you have a long-standing brand needing a boost to reach its previous heights, what are your options for bringing it back to the market in a way that attracts attention, engages existing and new audiences, and delivers improved business results?

Evaluating Your Brand Update Options

Using possibilities suggested in the Depeche Mode story plus a few others, we identified (and labeled) six potential brand update strategies for long-standing brands to undertake enhancements. These include:

Pure Nostalgia – In this strategy, everything essentially remains the same with the original brand. The brand’s promise (what it delivers to customers), elements (what makes up the brand), and experience (what happens for customers as they use the brand) to remain relatively unchanged. The brand attraction is dependent on audiences having positive (and likely intense) memories of the brand from an earlier, more prominent time. There may be a significant marketing push for the brand, but it constitutes the main effort to return the brand to earlier prominence. (Example – A cereal or candy brand marketing itself as a brand you remember from childhood)

Reintroduction – This strategic option involves updating the brand promise, elements, and experience to reflect current capabilities, knowledge, and market realities. Elements of the old brand may be eliminated and replaced with different aspects than the brand originally possessed. While certain brand elements are distinctly different and reflect today’s situation, a strong connection remains to the brand’s earlier days to create clear linkage. (Example – Bringing back current actors to play Colonel Sanders for KFC)

Refresh – Within a brand refresh strategy, the objective is to focus on a brand’s strongest elements – the things making it most distinctive and valuable to the primary audience – and preserve them. Any brand aspects that are outdated or lacking in some way are replaced with distinctly new elements reflecting a contemporary look, feel, and sensibilities. (Example – Pokémon GO, moving a familiar brand into mobile gaming and augmented reality)

Reformulation – In this brand update scenario, a brand retains its name and perhaps a few very important core elements. Everything else is completely redesigned and modernized. The underlying expectation is to call to mind the old brand among loyal audience members while relying on modern features to fuel new growth and success. (Example – The “new” Yankee Stadium replacing the old, historic ballpark)

Promotional Reintroduction – Even when a brand promise is largely intact and all aspects of the brand are strong, it may need an extra something to maximize its impact in a new way. That is when a promotion-based brand update strategy comes into play. The objective here is using a short-term change in the brand (or attaching something new to the brand) to generate interest and attention. After some finite period, the brand change or addition is reversed.  (Example – Coca-Cola adding personal names to its cans and bottles for the summer)

161102-mummy-pops

(Re)Launch – This brand update strategy involves keeping the brand largely intact as it has always been. The major change involves inserting the brand into new channels, locations, or markets. It could also involve returning to current channels, locations, or markets where the brand was previously active but withdrew or minimized its presence. (Example – A restaurant chain that enters and exits a particular market, only to re-enter the market at a future time)

A couple of notes about these strategies:

  • These options are not mutually exclusive. They likely benefit, in fact, from smart, strategic combinations.
  • We selected the labels based on how we’ve seen these described and deployed, so you may see them labeled differently elsewhere

Against this backdrop of potential strategies, we recommend conducting an exercise to identify a comprehensive list of everything closely associated with your brand. Beyond listing anything tied to the brand promise, elements, and experience, include language, customer perceptions (positive and negative, quantitative and qualitative), images, and any other sensory cues related to the brand.

After identifying a robust list of brand-related aspects, assemble a group of people from throughout your organization with strong insights into the brand. Have the group individually and collectively make their best assessments of whether each brand item is:

  • Critical to defining the brand
  • Important to the brand, but open to modification or significant change
  • No longer relevant for the brand

While it is ideal to have quantitative market research to incorporate into this type of brand assessment, a diverse group can generally make a strong first pass evaluation of where you have room to modify your brand. As you develop a point of view on where your brand is ripe for change, review the brand update strategy options list. Choose one or multiple strategies that might make sense for updating your brand.

Does your brand need a refresh?

Beyond this article, let us know if you want to talk further about updating a brand. With many organizations currently preparing next year’s strategies, it is a great time to perform a brand check to determine if it is time for something new.

Need Fresh Insights to Drive Your Strategy?

Download our FREE eBook: Reimagining the SWOT Analysis

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“Strategic Thinking Exercises: Reimagining the SWOT Analysis” features eleven ideas for adapting, stretching, and reinvigorating how you see your brand’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Whether you are just starting your strategy or think you are well down the path, you can use this eBook to:

  • Engage your team
  • Stimulate fresh thinking
  • Make sure your strategy is addressing typically overlooked opportunities and threats

Written simply and directly with a focus on enlivening one of the most familiar strategic thinking exercises, “Reimagining the SWOT Analysis” will be a go-to resource for stronger strategic insights!

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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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Want to hang out with some of the Brainzooming crew in San Francisco next week and learn all kinds of valuable information on content marketing, social media, marketing strategy, and branding?

Yes, it’s possible to do a deep dive into all those areas, plus network with other smart marketers from across industries, all in one location.

You’re invited to join us at the Social Media Strategies Summit and The Marketing Conference, taking place concurrently at The Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel in San Francisco, September 27-29. Registrants for either conference can move back and forth between the two, targeting the workshops and presentations that will be most valuable to their business success.

Did I mention there’s a special conference discount registration for Brainzooming readers? Keep reading for the code!

marketing-conference

I’ll be doing workshops on content marketing and collaborative branding strategy. I’ll be co-presenting the content marketing workshop and a presentation on marrying data and creativity with Emma Alvarez Gibson.

Other presenters are from Charles Schwab, Gap, Intel, and Campbell Soup.

Want to learn more about the combined opportunity of two conferences in one?

Here is conference producer Breanna Jacobs sharing more on the presenters and benefits of having two conferences agendas to customize your experience.

Earlier I mentioned a special discount code for Brainzooming readers (I.e., you!). When you register for The Marketing Conference, use the code MKTG25 to score a 25% discount on your registration!

We’re looking forward to seeing all our Bay Area (and traveling) friends next week in San Francisco for this incredible marketing meet up! – 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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I’m scheduled for a background interview today on creating a thought leadership strategy. The interview is an outgrowth of an eBook on thought leadership. The eBook came from a workshop someone did at a conference I’ve spoken at many times. I suspect when someone asked a question at the workshop about who the audience considered as thought leaders, a long-time friend was audacious enough to suggest my name.

While I’m sure it was a completely sincere gesture, I think pursuing a thought leadership strategy isn’t something a brand or an individual should do.

You ARE NOT a Thought Leader

thought-leadership-strategy

My personal antipathy toward a thought leadership strategy stems from a situation during my corporate life. A peer was developing a “think piece” on the transportation industry and our company’s place in its future. When it finally reached our department, the cover email mentioned my co-worker had already shared the document with all the company’s thought leaders.

That struck a teammates (who is incredibly smart and savvy) and me as a telling statement about how far we were from being thought leaders. We took a vow to never pursue or try to claim thought leadership status from that day forward since the overwhelming evidence (at least in that email) was that we weren’t.

That incident and a strategic desire to live behind (and not in front of) the Brainzooming brand means we’ve not addressed pursuing a thought leadership strategy as a topic here – other than Woody Bendle’s hilarious and completely on-target perspective about “So You May Be a Thought Leader.” We have also never pitched a client on developing a thought leadership strategy or influencer marketing program.

Trying to craft a strategy around promoting your brand or yourself as a leader based on thinking certain things is a poor and mistakenly inward-focused strategy.

That’s why I tried to get out of the interview after seeing the questions and realizing all my answers would be negative. The interviewer persisted and suggested the article may be focused on providing a contrarian view of pursuing a thought leadership strategy.

What to Say about a Thought Leadership Strategy?

Trying to form positive recommendations about a thought leadership strategy that still recognize a brand’s intent to share its message, here are alternative strategies brands should  consider:

A Servant Leadership Strategy

Identify the incredible ways you can serve customers. Serve and benefit customers in ways no other brand has done, then write about the impact of putting customers first.

A Value Leadership Strategy

Provide more benefits to customers than you would ever be able to charge for on a routine basis. Push your brand to incredible leadership in delivering value. Then write about how a value advantage makes a huge difference for customers.

An Employee Leader Strategy

Pursue leadership through inviting your employees to participate in shaping your organization’s direction. Help employees develop as leaders. After that, write about the impact awaiting other organizations when they embrace broad employee involvement.

A Humility Leadership Strategy

Serve your community, individuals, the unfortunate, and underdogs in extraordinary ways. Create impact through helping others that can’t help themselves in tangible ways. But then DON’T write about those stories. Allow the people you’ve helped to decide whether and how THEY will communicate what you’ve done.

What to do?

Those are all ways we’ve tried to create stories that first and foremost benefit the audience, then incorporate positive brand messages.

Companies and individuals that try to lead in these areas are ones to emulate because they are DOING great things, not simply THINKING about things and trying to create a cult of thought leadership. – 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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A recent Brainzooming article on changing your personal backstory recommended ensuring how you think about, describe, and conduct yourself maximizes the positive sentiments you generate among others. One input to revise your personal backstory is to ask how others see you. This suggestions prompted a question on what you should ask others (and how you should ask them) to get the best input for reshaping your backstory.

Ask people in a format that allows them to respond anonymously. You want to increase the likelihood they are going to share unvarnished sentiments with you. The easiest way to accomplish that is likely through some type of online survey.

7 Questions to Ask Others about Your Personal Backstory

personal-backstory-erase

Here are specific questions based off of those we use when developing personality-based brands. The input you will receive can help you decide what to add to and erase from your personal backstory:

  1. In a few sentences, what are your perceptions of who I am?
  2. What are words you associate with me?
  3. What are negative things you associate with me?
  4. What are positive things you associate with me?
  5. If you were introducing me to someone else, what would you say to them?
  6. In what capacity do you know me – professional, personal, or both?
  7. What’s our level of contact – used to be greater than it is now, it’s greater now than it used to be, or it’s been fairly consistent over time?

It would be great to be a bit more specific on the last two questions. You don’t want to be so specific about relationship questions, however, that people feel as if their answers will tip off who they are.

Across even five to ten people you should have a richer set of input than if you tried to revise your personal backstory based on your own thinking. – 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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