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Last week, we successfully introduced a strategic integrated marketing communications plan for a B2B client that had traditionally viewed marketing as the “brochure and trade show” department. Beyond delivering a plan stretching and updating its marketing strategy to drive better business results, The Brainzooming Group helped position the day-to-day marketing communications leader as a more strategic partner within marketing and the broader organization.

The strategic plan was the result of solid analytical work and an innovative look at how our client can more simply and effectively deliver its message to target audiences. Success with the plan’s ultimate delivery to both our client’s president and a 25-person audience also came from in-depth strategizing and implementation.

If you have a big presentation to deliver, here are 8 tactics in our presentation strategy you can use to be more successful as well:

  • Write down 3 to 5 objectives you want to achieve with each audience. We had strategic objectives identified for the large audience, the project sponsors, our day-to-day client, and the president. These lists helped ensure the right strategic information was communicated in each presentation.
  • Share what you’re going to cover with key audience members beforehand. You don’t want to surprise someone with a new strategy, causing them to react negatively and derail the overall strategy you’re trying to deliver.
  • Allow time for multiple iterations of the presentation. The actual Powerpoint itself was nothing dramatic creatively; there was maybe one build slide, and more text on the slides than any of us wanted. Still there were probably 15 different versions of the presentation in the past week as we made ongoing refinements to focus the message, leaving details for the written plan.
  • Be a ruthless editor. Two words: Fewer slides.
  • Have somebody with fresh eyes look at the presentation. When you’ve been through multiple versions, it’s really easy to start missing what should be apparent gaps. Have a team member more removed from the document’s preparation go through it in detail to spot issues.
  • Orchestrate how the meeting should end. Our client talked with the president and asked him to do the wrap-up for the presentation. We gave him notes which he modified to fit his strategic view, and he delivered a great message reinforcing the strategic role marketing communications should hold.
  • Test the set up the day before. Run through the AV setup the day before, when there are no time pressures. While you’re at it, identify the AV person who can be available well before your presentation to make sure everything works when it has to work the next day.
  • Work hard to end the presentation early. Even if you wind up booking a little more time than you expect you’ll need, make a deliberate attempt to end early, a strategy which always sends people off on a little more positive note.

Did you notice something? Seven, although arguably all eight, of these activities happen before the presentation. I didn’t create the list that way deliberately, but it underscores the strategic importance of preparing for a successful presentation. – 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.  To learn how we can bring out the best innovative thinking in your team email us at brainzooming@gmail.com or call us at 816-509-5320.

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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3

When preparing for a job interview, don’t forget there are really two interviews going on. You need to be assessing the potential employer both organizationally and personally as well. It’s critical then to invest time developing your strategy for interviewing your prospective employer:

  • Create a list of questions you’ll ask. Review who you’ll be talking with and have a strategy for each individual’s targeted questions. If you interview people as an employer, look through the questions you use that may be particularly fruitful when adapted for use on the other side of the hiring table. Ask probing, challenging questions, particularly when meeting a company’s senior executives.
  • Look for informal situations in which to interact. Take advantage of any opportunity to meet others in the company outside of the formal interview times. Ask questions about what they enjoy about the company, what it’s like to work there, and why they joined originally.
  • Observe everything. No detail is too small; try to notice and analyze everything taking place. How do people interact? What are their verbal and non-verbal reactions to one another? Who asks if you’d like something to drink, and who ultimately goes to get it? Every part of your experience is input to consider.

The importance of having your own interview strategy was evident on a job interview I went on in the past few years. It was a group interview with four members of a company’s executive team for a CMO position. Really more of a conversation than an interview, there were lots of questions about my employer and my thoughts on the strategic situation for the prospective company.

One thing I noticed early on was while they said they wanted a strategic marketer, every time they mentioned marketing, they might as well have hand-signaled double quotes around the word. Strategic marketing was clearly viewed as a foreign concept. Along the way, there were a couple of shots taken at the rigor of stock analysts because they’re “ANALytical.” All of these were important clues.

Finally, the CEO said let’s turn the tables and invited me to ask questions. I pulled out my 5-page list saying, “I AM a research guy.”

Among the first questions was one shaped by the job spec the recruiter supplied. The background material talked in depth about what a close unit the senior management team was, how the members were argumentative, but supportive, and how the new strategic marketer would have to fit the group’s working culture. I asked them, obviously enough, what type of person would come in and be successful working with this tight-knit group.

The CFO began the multi-person response:

“A 21-year old girl…with a stripper background…who likes to do special projects.”

Yes, take a moment. As incredible as it sounds, that is word for word how they answered the question.

I looked at one of the two lawyers in the room who had been identified as taking over the HR function and asked him, “So are you in charge of HR yet?” There weren’t many questions that needed to be asked after that.

It’s not as if the killer question I asked was complex. It was strategic though and targeted at whether the working relationship at this company was going to work. Obviously, the answer was no.

I feel sorry for the person who wound up with this job, if it indeed got filled, because they clearly didn’t uncover, among other business issues, the very superficial regard this company holds for strategic marketing.

All I can say is I was at least thankful for their honesty. – 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.  To learn how we can develop the best strategic marketing plan for your business, email us at brainzooming@gmail.com or call us at 816-509-5320.

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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In just a few weeks (September 26 through 29), the annual American Marketing Association Marketing Research Conference will unfold in Atlanta. For the second year, I’ll be chairing the conference whose theme is “Unfiltered Perspectives. Unexpected Opportunities.”

We’ve once again designed an overall conference experience intended to challenge market researchers to look beyond our typical roles and responsibilities to really consider what it takes to contribute meaningfully to business – right now and in the future.

Among the exciting elements which make the AMA Marketing Research Conference unmatchable:

  • The conference committee, made up of research veterans, is personally involved in recruiting all the speakers. This ensures the 35 interactive educational sessions deliver meaningful content tied to the conference’s strategic theme.
  • There’s an incredible line up of smart, strategic business leaders speaking, including many who have been featured in Brainzooming before. These include Gary Singer of Buyology, Joe Batista of HP, and author Kelley Styring of Insight Farm.
  • Our conference-in-a-conference format allows attendees to target specific learning agendas, including advanced research techniques, case studies, research tools, and unconference sessions where attendees can actively shape the content.
  • An active social media team will document the entire conference to allow attendees to learn even from sessions they don’t attend. The team will be coordinated by Nate Riggs of Social Business Strategies (who has been working with The Brainzooming Group on various social media strategic implementations).

As one person described it, this is the marketing research conference that market researchers put on for themselves.

One of the best parts of last year’s conference was feedback from the audience that the event builds a true sense of community within the diverse group of market researchers who attended the event (including a researcher from Russia who decided to attend in the last few days before the conference). We’ll do the same this year, so if you’re involved in market research, you owe it to yourself to attend.

Download the most current, in-depth version of the conference brochure today and review more details on the conference at the American Marketing Association website.

As a Brainzooming reader, you’ll receive $100 off registration by calling 1-800-262-1150 and using the promo code “VIP” when you register.

Join us in Atlanta, September 26 through 29th. It will be an unparalleled experience in your career!Mike Brown


When it comes to conferences, high impact presentations, and live event social media content, The Brainzooming Group is expert at shaping the right strategy and implementation to create unique attendee experiences before, during, and after an event. Email us at brainzooming@gmail.com or call 816-509-5320 to learn how we can do the same for your event!

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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Even among people signed up on Twitter, you see questions about Twitter’s value and what Twitter is good for strategically. Many times these questions come from people who are still using Twitter at Twitter.com and haven’t gravitated toward a more robust application such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck.

As a Tweetdeck user, here are 5 columns set up in Tweetdeck which increase the networking value Twitter provides:

“Conversations” – This is a group column that’s continually building as anyone who has tweeted with me, retweeted a post, or I’ve met personally is added. Rather than a dynamic list which ages people off, no one leaves this list because of recent inactivity. It’s a great way to pay special attention to closer connections on Twitter. As I’ve explained to Nate Riggs, to a great extent, this column is my primary RSS feed and signal that friends have published new blog posts.

A Search on Across Twitter Identities – I have a bunch of Twitter identities directly, plus others I help manage. Beyond a Tweetdeck “Mentions” column which shows every time a single identity (i.e. @Brainzooming) is tweeted, this search column brings together mentions across multiple accounts and variations in my name. It’s helpful for seeing what tweets are resonating with others and trying to ensure I notice conversation starters and participate. This column really lights up when one of the Mike Browns out there screws up in sports, or it’s the anniversary of another one screwing up a natural disaster.

Searches for Organization, Event, and Chat Hashtags – Hashtags allow words and phrases to be easily searched in the Twitter world. Having a variety of columns dedicated to organizations (i.e., #smckc, #bmaengage), events (both #amamrc and @amamrc), or Twitter chats (#innochat, #blogchat, etc.) where you’re active helps you stay current on new information and relevant links. It identifies people involved in the same subject areas who may be good people to follow or retweet.

People Who Need Help – There’s a permanent search set up in my Tweetdeck on the phrase “creative block.” Many times a day, people globally tweet their creative frustrations. This column signals people who might benefit from a Brainzooming blog post on beating creative blocks. I tweet them the post’s link to ideally be helpful to them. There are other searches set up on additional topics where there might be blog content to share to assist or answer questions.

Guest Blog Titles – When you guest blog, your Twitter name may or may not appear with the article or in a tweet about it. I have a few columns set up with searches on recent guest posts that both help me learn when a post is published and also indicate which posts are getting read and shared. Again, this can be another great source of new people to follow.

And for even more ideas on tools to help you get more value based on who you follow on Twitter, check out a wonderfully resource-rich post from Nate Riggs.

Are you using any of these columns to gain greater value from Twitter? Are there other columns effective for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments! - 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 us at 816-509-5320 to see how we can help you define a strategy firmly tied to business yet recognizing the impact of social networking on your market opportunities.

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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Building on yesterday’s post on branding warning signals, in the Brainzooming world view, creativity and creative exploration are integral to developing successful strategy. Yet in the last few years, I’ve run across many marketers gravitating toward incredibly literal – not lateral – thinking.  This may reflect a crappy economy and job market where people want to follow exactly what they’re told or pick the safest path to minimize the perceived risk of being fired for pushing beyond the status quo or implementing a strategy with some room for maneuver (and potential risk) in it.

The real downsides to literal thinking arise in ho-hum strategies and uninspired customers.  It’s my firm belief literal thinking also results in inferior financial performance. Outside of direct marketing strategies, however, it can be tough to demonstrate the financial downside of play-it-safe marketing.

There’s been a recent example on TV though where, at least hypothetically, it’s possible to speculate on the financial impact of less literal and more creatively strategic thinking. There’s just one caveat: I have no idea whether my imagined back-story really happened or not, and that uncertainty is why I don’t do a lot of marketing case studies on Brainzooming. Even though it’s hypothetical, the strategic decision scenario is completely accurate, because I’ve seen too many times where unfortunately it didn’t play out as successfully.

Kentucky Fried Chicken is celebrating its 70th anniversary with a promotional discount offer. A literally-oriented marketer (if they’re at least somewhat strategic), would be thinking about, “What can we do with 70 in a promotion?” 70 pieces of chicken? 70% discount? 70 cents off? None of those really work.

Another number important to KFC is eleven – the number of herbs and spices in its original recipe. Less literal than 70 in the context of this offer, it’s still a strategically and creatively important number for the brand. A literal marketer might get to 11 pieces for $11 because it’s direct and straight-forward. Yet, that’s not the ultimate offer. Instead, it’s 11 pieces of chicken for $11.99. Sure 99 might not be connected to the KFC brand. A strategic, non-literal marketer, however, wouldn’t be stopped by that because adding the 99 cents to the price increases revenue per item by 9%

The real lesson in this hypothetical case study is the right mix of strategic and creative thinking on what’s important to the brand will generate more benefits than the prevalent, “don’t over think, just act” mentality. In this case, it translates to 9% greater revenue per purchase. That’s a great strategic benefit and a strong performance differential in a fear-filled, crappy economy!   - 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 us at 816-509-5320 to see how we can help you devise a successful innovation strategy for your organization.

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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Several years ago I started doing a presentation on lessons in turnaround brand building. The presentation features strategic lessons in building a brand from the brink of collapse to tremendous success. The lessons are applicable to not only brands, but also to departments in companies, projects, and even personal life. With the subsequent dramatic economic meltdown, many once-stellar brands have disappeared for various reasons and a new niche has developed in predicting whether a brand will vanish in the near-term based on various warning signs.

In these cases, any type of attempted strategic brand turnaround has obviously failed. In my own corporate brand strategy experience, I witnessed a significant unraveling of the incredible turnaround and brand building work that had been done. As an early step in refreshing and re-orienting the turnaround branding content, here are five observations about what happens to strategic thinking when a brand is in distress. Consider these early warning signs for a potential brand collapse:

1. Detaching from the brand’s strategic foundation

When the economy is in crisis, it seems almost fashionable to abandon strategic efforts. That’s a dangerous strategy (or absence of one). I met with a CEO last year who said outright his business wouldn’t be doing ANYTHING strategic for at least six months. What a complete misunderstanding of the concept! The company was engaged in all kinds of financial maneuvers (which were strategic, albeit near-term) to survive while ignoring the very strategic upside opportunities it couldn’t afford to put off if it were going to turn around its fortunes.

2. Disdaining and compartmentalizing creativity

I know, the IBM CEO study said CEOs value and want more creativity to deal with uncertain times. Maybe so (although I’m skeptical as I wrote last week), but companies are full of left-brain senior managers who don’t appreciate creative problem solving. They may also start trying to compartmentalize creativity to certain functions or topics. That’s a warning sign, because creativity is broadly vital during challenging and ambiguous situations. Creativity isn’t simply for cooking up creative financing schemes to try and keep a business afloat.

3. Telling employees to not think but just act

A disdain for thinking certainly runs through the other items on the list. When senior executives are telling people to not over-think and just get on with stuff, it’s a clear warning sign. Maybe it is a slow-moving organization stalling innovation efforts which are ready to be implemented. But a “don’t think, do” motto is used frequently as an excuse to not consider an appropriate variety of fact-based strategic options or to avoid exposing flawed strategies when they should be modified or shot down. This warning sign is a harbinger of hearing the age old cop-out, “I was just following orders.”

4. Using policy in place of good decision making

Making decisions in a challenging business situation is hard, especially for a big corporation. It means having to think through the ripple effects of decisions or adapting decision making principles to many situations based on specific issues at hand. An alternative, which can be overused, is to take the easy way out and enforce strict policy to displace strategic decision making. For example, telling every department to cut its budget 25% when the smarter strategic approach is really understanding critical business areas and making strategic decisions to fit each situation. Leading with policy over decision making is fast, but it’s sloppy and potentially crippling when used too frequently.

5. Making decisions based on what you like, not on facts

When business decisions are being made based on what people like and don’t like, be very afraid. It’s impossible to completely remove personal preference from thinking and decision making, but business isn’t a Facebook page – liking and not liking (especially when the person speaking isn’t in the target market) isn’t a good starting place for strategic decisions.  If the early questions aren’t about what matters for the business and how customers will react (yes, even whether they’ll like the idea or not), big problems are looming.

What strategic thinking warning signs do you see in brands being challenged or teetering on the brink? I’d love to get your reactions to these five and others you have seen play out in your experience in the comments. – 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.  To learn how we can bring out the best innovative thinking in your team email us at brainzooming@gmail.com or call us at 816-509-5320.

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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Last Wednesday, I attended the Kansas City Business Marketing Association lunch for a presentation by Ashley Kuhnmuench of Google on the “B2B Buyer at Zero Moment of Truth.” It’s a Google-defined characterization of what happens before a customer comes in direct contact with your brand. Since it’s Google doing defining ZMOT (as it’s acronymed), it’s pretty much seen as the online research a prospect does on your brand before interacting with you. This brief video from the presentation features a further description of the concept:

While it’s an intriguing characterization, the concept isn’t necessarily innovative (people have always been able to reach out to others for perspectives or do offline research on a brand – yes there was research before Google existed).

Ashley did offer some statistics, however, which support the increasing prevalence of pre-engagement searches among business decision makers. She reported:

  • 62% of B2B buyers are doing more online research because of the economic downturn and have become more likely to switch vendors.
  • Google is seeing a surge in B2B conversions, with conversion defined as an individual taking a desired action on a website.

In successfully dealing with the Zero Moment of Truth, Ashley suggested three strategies for brands to embrace:

  • Visibility - Business decision makers are using longer searches (4 to 7 words), seeking out specific information.  They’re also using time outside normal work hours for business-related searches: 40% of business decision makers spend non-9 to 5 time doing online searches for work. Increasingly mobile devices are also part of the search equation. Visibility implies online presences being legitimately active 24/7 (i.e., having someone available to respond to social-media based requests or crises for your brand in what used to be off-hours), easily findable (SEO, SEM), functioning across multiple platforms, and incorporating video (for richer and more personal explanations of features and benefits).
  • Persuasion – B2B searchers are increasingly looking for productivity, efficiency, and sustainability-related messages. So not only does the online presence you actively manage need to reflect searcher interests and your brand in a relevant way, you have to make sure you live up to customer expectations and your brand promise to best impact broader conversations taking place online. With the advent of social media and social networking, it’s become very challenging for brands to manage online messages and the sentiment about their brands when there’s every opportunity for the public to communicate completely contradictory messages. That means brands have to be active in relevant forums with believable, authentic messages and interactions to foster strong relationships.
  • Flexibility – Finally, flexibility implies a brand’s ability to anticipate and respond quickly to opportunities and challenges. It also demands a willingness to launch new ideas rapidly with less attachment to perfection, and great skill in iterating to arrive at increasingly better answers.

The most important point in the presentation centered on this: the presence of online information and dialogue about brands (and related topics) has already fundamentally changed and disrupted numerous industries, including travel, publishing, retail, and real estate. If you think it won’t affect your business-oriented market, you’re wrong, and you need to start anticipating the potential ramifications and responding immediately. – 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 us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your brand strategy and implementation efforts.

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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