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We were set to work with a client team exploring the customer experience strategy they’d introduce to their internal customers. As we thought about how many of them there were (about twenty), the two of us from The Brainzooming Group, and the value of having an inner circle of informal facilitators, we hit upon an idea: create roles for a small group of clients to play during our two-day branding workshop.

Each of the four roles were intended to help push the group’s thinking on its customer experience strategy in varied ways.

4 Roles to Push Bold Customer Experience Strategy Thinking

We met with them the afternoon before the branding workshop started to provide background information and answer questions. Rather than tromping on others’ ideas, we asked them to look for ways to build on and expand ideas the group was sharing in positive ways. We provided strategic thinking questions of their own to use, including:

  • “That’s great and how can we do that _____________?”
  • “What if that were ________________?”
  • “Oooh, can we enhance that by ______________?”
  • “What would it look like if we also _____________?”

We assigned four roles to shape the customer experience strategy thinking:

On the second day of the branding workshop, we added another role: The Queen of Intrigue. That role went to the group’s senior executive to focus us on transformative ideas during a strategic thinking exercise involving imagining Chick-fil-A designing their customer experience strategy. Maybe you had to be there to appreciate that one!

We asked the group to pick the roles they wanted to play without telling other participants or us.

Now, for two admissions:

  1. All the while as we were creating this, I was thinking of Chuck Dymer letting me know these roles were accounted for in Six Thinking Hats (affiliate link). That’s the problem of me never having taken one of Chuck’s Six Thinking Hats workshops. My mistake, definitely!
  2. Emma Alvarez Gibson and I consciously tried to forget who we talked to about the roles. We didn’t want to interact with them differently or rely on them unduly as we facilitated the small groups. The result? We can’t tell you definitively whether the role playing created greater success or not.

If nothing else, the customer experience strategy roles provided a handful of participants more to think about and something extra to do to make our branding workshop the success it was! – Mike Brown

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Struggling to be creative?

Think about reigniting your creativity as a day at an amusement park.

You walk in, and you’re going to ride a bunch of different rides in different parts of the park. You might ride some rides multiple times, but the day is mainly about as having many fun and exciting experiences as possible.

All the ways you have been creative up until now are the amusement park rides. Make a list of them. Start pursuing them, one after another.

Don’t worry about the pattern.

Don’t worry about what it all means together.

Don’t worry about creating a body of work.

Just start and keep having fun throughout the list.

You’ll have your creativity back!

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Ten years into the Brainzooming blog, it seemed right to have someone else tell the story from a fresh perspective. Emma Alvarez Gibson, who helped shaped the Brainzooming brand before it even launched, is exactly the person.

Ten Years Now and Mike Brown Has a Blog – Emma Alvarez Gibson

It’s 2009, and I’ve just gone into business for myself, doing branding and copywriting. Thanks to Twitter, which is at that point still a place to have thoughtful conversations with smart people, a great-sounding gig has fallen into my lap. This guy I’ve never met has just hired me, after a couple of emails and a single phone call, to help launch his company. He’s kind of shockingly sincere, but he lives in Kansas City, and maybe that’s just how they do there. He’s about to leave his job as a strategic planning and marketing VP at a Fortune 500 transportation company and he’s got this whole other direction mapped out for himself—he’s been blogging now for a couple of years in preparation for this move.

“I don’t think I had any clue, at the start, about the impact the blog would have on my life.”

We work well together. He says I really get what he’s trying to do. And he pays promptly, as the best clients do. I wish him well, and we follow one another on Twitter. Every now and then we exchange pleasantries and silly jokes, sometimes an email or two. We tweet, we message, we leave comments on one another’s Facebook updates. I sign up for his blog posts, which are astonishing in their frequency as well as their depth.

“The blog paved the way for me to create a brand-new business identity. It allowed me to create a new present and future that built on, but wasn’t beholden to, my experience in the transportation sector.”

And so it goes for the next three years. By 2012 I’m no longer working for myself, as I’ve discovered that I’m terrible at it. I’ve got a capital-J job, and excellent health insurance, and tons of banked vacation time. One afternoon in 2014, I’m in my office with not a lot to do, and a message pops up: the guy from Kansas wants to know if I have a couple of minutes for a phone call. I’m a little weirded out, but say yes. He’ll be in San Diego in a month, he says, and wonders if I’m available to help facilitate a workshop. I am.

The evening before the workshop, I drive down from LA immediately following a Neil Finn show, accompanied by a girlfriend, just on the off chance that it’s all a setup and I’m meeting up with an ax murderer. (Spoiler: I’m not. The guy from Kansas is exactly as he represents himself online.) But despite it being our first time meeting face to face, it feels like we’ve known each other for years. Probably because we have.

“It gave me an identity beyond Mike Brown, which is in the top 5 most nondescript names.”

The workshop goes well. It’s fun, and challenging, and so gratifying to see that we’re giving people tools and resources that will continue to improve their work lives and also have the capacity to improve their personal lives. This work calls to me on a deep level.

Back in LA I keep thinking about how naturally we worked together and how our skills and expertise complemented one another. What if that could be my job? But I can’t really allow myself to venture too far down that path. There are too many variables and it isn’t as though he’s hiring tons of people—particularly not people 1600 miles away. I’ve got a child, a chronic illness, a mortgage, and my husband and I live in one of the most expensive cities in the country. I climb back down into the salt mines, so to speak, and focus on making things go.

“The body of work is a personal one. But it allows us to compete with the biggest consulting firms in the world.”

When the guy from Kansas asks if I’d be interested in the occasional editing gig, I am; soon it’s a weekly thing. I think, often, about what it would be like to do this full-time. One day, the guy from Kansas says, hesitantly, Hey, I don’t know how you’d feel about this, but when I’m in a position to extend the company’s base outside Kansas City, I’d really like to hire you full-time. I’d feel pretty great about that, and tell him so. And then it’s back to the salt mines for me, but now the work I’m doing when I’m not at my day job includes several long-term projects, and we’re presenting workshops and keynotes at conferences in San Francisco and on an island off the coast of Georgia.

Now it’s the fall of 2017. I have a block of time in the middle of my frenzied day that doesn’t belong to anyone else, and I shut my office door and call the guy from Kansas to discuss a couple of the projects we have going. When he answers the phone, I say hello and ask how he is. He says, Wonderful. I’m just finishing up your offer letter. Within fifteen minutes, I’ve given notice.

“The busyness of the business, driven in large part by the blog, has had a tremendous impact across my life.”

This month marks the tenth anniversary of what became the Brainzooming blog. I tease Mike about the sheer volume of content he’s created across these ten years. He must have content running in his veins where we mere mortals have only blood, I say. Oh, no, Mike Brown forgot to write a blog post for tomorrow! Not to worry – just hand him that letter opener! The wound will heal; the content will live on! The truth, of course, is simpler and more complicated than that. The truth involves a different kind of sacrifice, and hell of a lot of hard work.

It’s two months to the day since I joined Brainzooming full-time as Director of Brand Strategy. I can’t quite shake the sense that, at any moment, someone’s going to show up at my door and order me back to the salt mines. Because this kind of work isn’t work: it’s a calling. And that makes all the difference in the world, and to my world. (As do the excellent Beavis and Butt-head impressions Mike and I are prone to when in the same city. Or on the phone. Or, okay, via email.)

We’ve now met in person five times, and next year will bring more opportunities to get together to address problems, create solutions, and bring people together in ways they would not have thought possible. I can’t wait to see where Brainzooming goes next.

Happy blog anniversary, Mike. Happy blog anniversary, Brainzooming. Here’s to the next ten years. Emma Alvarez Gibson

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A client reached out yesterday with a “quick cry for help!”

The client’s organization is taking time today to imagine ideas for a brand video that looks at the customer experience they deliver from the audience’s perspective. She asked about a question or exercise “that has worked well to get people thinking about that type of content and how to present it.”

I love requests like this from clients because we can offer them assistance while also using their real-world challenges as blog posts!

6 Ideas to Imagine Social-First Video Content for a Brand Video

Here are the five social-first content-oriented articles I suggested this client consider for today’s staff meeting. You can click on the numbered headers to reach each article.

1. The Steps to Your Brand

This exercise involves thinking about all the steps customers take in arriving at your brand. The original inspiration was from signage pointing the way to the St. Louis Arch. By using/adapting the seven questions included in the article, the team can think about what customers’ experiences as they come to and engage with a brand.

2. Customers’ Brand Surprises

We call this one the “Oohs and Ahhs Test.” Have the group think about what customers and prospects Ooh and Ahh about when they experience your brand for the first time.

3. Finding the Cool in Your Brand

This one may feel a reach if you aren’t an industrial brand, but it contains possibilities for other types of brand. Use the bullet points in the article’s first and second sections as prompts, asking “What does our brand do or how does our brand feature this aspect?” In the third section, there’s a video from Lincoln Electric focusing on the impact of its welding equipment instead of the welding equipment itself. It’s a great example for brands to emulate in sharing customer stories.

4. Looking at the Customer Experience from Multiple Social-First Content Perspectives

Any of these five exercises could be productive for thinking about questions or interactions teachers have with a brand. While we use posters featuring each exercise we we conduct a social-first content workshop for a client, the descriptions of each exercise should have enough to suggest a few questions to get people thinking.

5. What Should Content Do?

Use the EIEIU social-first content formula in this article as prompts to ask, “What would a video about what our brand does deliver (the EIEIU variable) for our audience?” Wonder what EIEIU stands for? Read the article!

6. What Needs to Go into a Creative Brief?

This one is about strategic creative briefs. You can use the objectives / preferences / guidelines framework discussed near the article’s conclusion to have people imagine what direction they would provide to shape social-first video content.

And, BTW

If you’re looking for ideas to maximize shooting the videos, here are lessons learned from shooting videos for our own brand! And if you need a social-first content branding workshop to develop the important messages for your audiences, contact us, and let’s schedule one for your organization! – Mike Brown

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  • Understand more comprehensively what interests your audience
  • Find engaging topics your brand can credibly address via social-first content
  • Zero in on the right spots along the social sales continuum to weave your brand messages and offers into your content

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We are back from the Inbound 2017 conference sponsored by Hubspot.

Last week’s Inbound conference was intense and productive. For a quick summary of the week, here are quotes pulled from across most of the Inbound 2017 keynotes and breakout presentations I attended.

Creative Thinking Skills

“It is easier to correct errors than to try to prevent them all.” – Ed Catmull of Pixar

“Every picture you’ve ever loved from Pixar sucked for a year.” – Brené Brown on hurdles that stand between an idea and celebrated creativity

“We didn’t like the media landscape, so we changed it. Don’t fight the systems that exist, create new ones.” – Piera Gelardi of Refinery29 on unabashedly reinventing monoliths that don’t suit you

“What seems ordinary to you may be extraordinary to others.” – Kareem Taylor of Headnod Music on the reason you need to stop that inner voice saying, “You’re not special.”

Growth

“Your network is who knows you, not who you know.” – Emcee Mark Jeffries explaining why everyone seems to want to be a star

“Companies are more likely to die from overeating than starvation.” – Hubspot Co-Founder Brian Halligan relating advice from a board member advocating for starting fewer things

“Always test the assumptions you are making about your audience. The goal is results, not guessing.” – Garrett Moon of CoSchedule with an important reminder for freewheeling startup types

“What do people do before they reach out to you?” – Matthew Barby of Hubspot offering a suggestion for attracting your prospects EARLY in the buying process

Branding

“What story will you tell about your brand?” – George Thomas of Sales Lion 

“Listen to your audience’s exact words, write them down, and then test them. Bucket them into dreams, pains, and barriers.” – Scott Tousley of Hubspot with a powerful suggestion for outside-in language

Leadership

“If you’re going to lead, you have to lead with grace.” – Former First Lady Michelle Obama telling it like it is

“Stop doing stupid shit.” – Leslie Ye of Hubspot with the “duh” QOTD

Marketing Chops

If you’re going to do video, you “need to think like a film editor.” – Salma Jafri pointing out a critical step all video must go through to fit a specific social platform

Today, you need marketers with “broad experience and the ability to go deep in a few areas. You need a Jack or Jill of all trades, and a master of some.” – Stefanie Grieser of Unbounce with hiring advice – Mike Brown

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Ask most business executives about strategy, and they don’t spit out well-articulated strategy statements.

Instead, executives talk about customers or growth or cost cutting or new markets or a whole variety of other areas that can contribute to business success.

That realization was a breakthrough in how we would create a strategy development exercise back when I ran strategic planning for a Fortune 500 corporation.

The consultants we worked with to help us develop our first big strategic marketing plan back in 1997, didn’t provide productive structure to help us. To them, a strategy development exercise involved PowerPoint slides with boxes and grids to complete. It was about fully-formed answers with no real support to help business and marketing managers do the strategic thinking to develop their strategies. The process was difficult, slow, and only worked because the consultant staffed the engagement with a bunch of MBAs that did the work for our people. They billed high-dollar hours like crazy, turning a single strategic planning initiative into a seven-figure annual engagement.

Over time and hundreds of strategy development workshops, we changed all that.

The Secret to Making a Strategy Development Exercise Faster and Easier

We streamlined strategy by giving our own people a strategic planning structure allowing them to showcase their experiences, knowledge, and perspectives. We sped up the process by assembling a multi-functional team that together had many more great ideas than a single marketing manager. We time-constrained strategic planning so that we spent less time on non-productive speeches and information sharing, instead focusing on productive strategic conversations.

And importantly, when we developed a new strategy development exercise, we actively used creative thinking techniques to help them very naturally think about typical strategy issues in very different ways.

This fundamental change in planning happened over a ten-year period. The Brainzooming strategic planning process was the result.

Brainzooming is all about streamlining strategic planning, making the process engaging, and the outcome actionable.

Sound like the formula your organization needs? If so, contact us, and let’s talk about the possibilities for develop faster, more successful business strategy at your organization! – Mike Brown

 

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I don’t remember the exact year, but our Marketing department hired Chuck Dymer to speak to our team during a quarterly meeting. At some point during the talk, Chuck pulled out a copy of that morning’s USA Today and made a connection between an article and his pre-planned talk.

That moment influenced me tremendously.

I wanted my creative thinking skills to be strong enough to do the same thing. I wanted to be able to look at something random and make a valuable, intriguing connection to something already planned or underway.

My reaction that day led to exploring ideas for how to boost my creative thinking skills to make comparable intriguing connections.

In the strategic planning session Chuck and I co-facilitated last week for an organization’s future vision, he did it again. As he discussed a forward-looking analysis we prepared for our client, he pulled out the USA Today from that morning and connected it to what we were going to cover during the day.

I was so excited, because I didn’t know he was going to do that.

Creative Thinking Skills Test – Bending the Random to the Planned

The experience prompted this idea for a creative thinking skills test: If you think you are very creative, how can you work your creative skills to intriguingly connect something you have planned for days/weeks/months with a random piece of information from that day’s USA Today?

Via Shutterstock

When you can connect the pre-planned to the surprising or random, that’s a fantastic indicator your creative skills are delivering! – Mike Brown

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