9

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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12

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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6

At last week’s Social Media Club of Kansas City breakfast, Aaron Bollinger of KickApps.com did a strategy-instigating presentation on “Creating a Unique Social Experience.” He also bought breakfast for everyone in attendance (including me – just want to make sure the FTC is taken care of here).

One of Aaron’s central ideas was how KickApps can allow a social network audience to participate in social media commentary in one click. One case study demonstrated the positive participation, traffic, and subscriber impact of allowing visitors of local TV news websites to provide a one-click reaction to stories vs. taking the time to write a comment.

Removing barriers to make it easy for social network audiences to share their perspectives prompted me to share six others things we should avoid with audiences online and (to the extent they apply), offline as well:

1.  Don’t require audience members to go where they aren’t interested in going, especially for content of lesser value.    It’s not an audience-enhancing move to require members to leave a content-rich environment to go somewhere less content-rich for an essential function. So if you want your audience to leave Facebook to visit your website, you better have an even richer experience waiting at your landing page.

2.  Don’t divide your audience into groups so small they become unsustainable.     We’re seeing this a lot in live event social media right now. Conference organizers want to create very niche forum discussions among an audience of a few hundred people. In every case, the strategy has fallen flat because an average-sized audience, divided 15 ways, can’t be expected to actively engage and keep a social network sub-community viable.

3.  Avoid placing unnecessarily high hurdles in front of social network members to participate with you or with each other.     This was at the heart of Aaron’s presentation, but it extends further. As a marketer, I love having all kinds of data on current and potential customers and want to gather it anywhere possible. But in asking lots of registration questions online and making them required, how many potentially valuable community members do you lose in your network? Instead, make it easy to join the audience and grow in your knowledge of audience members over time as you become more valuable to each other.

4.  Don’t make them suffer through your brand identity crisis.     This can be especially challenging for solopreneurs and small businesses with less considered brand identities. A huge part of a brand promise is predictability. Even if your brand is edgy, it should be predictably edgy. So when communicating with your audience, make sure you behave in a way that’s consistent with what your audience expects.

5.  Never make your social media audience wonder where you are or when you’ll return.     I’m always preaching to anyone who will listen – be consistent in your brand engagement, especially in social media. Instead of introducing your social media presence with heavy activity and then disappearing, engage with your audience regularly and with a dependable rate of frequency. Even though there will be times when you’ll be more active in your network than others, muster the strategic discipline to be visible and participatory on a regular schedule.

6.  Don’t make it easy for your social network to get off the hook.     I first learned about the concept of “high performing customers” at Arizona State University. The concept focuses on the vital roles customers play in service delivery processes and the importance of putting mechanisms in place so they can fulfill the roles effectively. It’s an interesting one when applied to social media where a high performing customer’s role is typically some form of participation. This implies taking the time to think strategically about how you instruct, cultivate enthusiasm, and reward audience members for fulfilling their necessary roles in making social networks stronger and more viable.

In order to embrace the “make it easier to participate” concept, click your reactions to this post in the brief survey at the end of this online post!

If you’d like to go further than simply voting, please share your ideas: What are other things we should all avoid with our social network audiences? - 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 brand strategy firmly tied to business yet recognizing the impact of social networking on your customers.

[memedex: pollid#492312]

 

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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10

Since a lot of people ask about the challenges of writing a blog 5 days a week, I thought we’d follow yesterday’s post on opening your creative perspectives about topics with how you can turn topics into 25 creative blog topic ideas. Here are 25 formats you can use to turn a topic into blog content of value for your audience.  In a blog post, you can:

  • Share Your Opinions
  • React to Others’ Opinions
  • Report News
  • Report News with Your Opinion
  • Ask a Question
  • Answer a Question
  • Make a List
  • Teach Something
  • Provide Background Info
  • Provide Reference Info
  • Do a Demonstration
  • Issue a Challenge / Task
  • Make an Offer
  • Reflect on Past Events
  • Speculate About the Future
  • Summarize a Topic
  • Cover a Topic in Depth
  • Relate an Anecdote
  • Report on a Conference / Event
  • Interview Yourself
  • Interview  Someone Else
  • Review Something
  • Organize Information in New Ways
  • Revisit a Topic
  • Combine Two of These Posts
  • REPEAT Any or All of the Previous Ones

These formats work for your own blog and also for guest blog posts (once again…hint, hint for potential Brainzooming guest bloggers) where you want to showcase your expertise on someone else’s blog. If you consider video or audio posts using any of these formats, the 25 potential posts immediately turn into 75 possibilities!

Additionally, depending on the class and specific assignment, this list could also be helpful in structuring essays for writing classes in school.

If you’re still on the sidelines about blogging yourself or guest blogging, ideally these posts will prompt you to give it a try.  – Mike Brown

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at brainzooming@gmail.com or call 816-509-5320 to learn how we can develop an integrated social media and blogging strategy for your brand.

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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2

What does an increasingly connected, socially networked, world mean for brands wanting to take strategic advantage of the opportunities it presents?

That was the topic for Matt Anthony, CEO of Kansas City-based digital marketing agency VML in his keynote presentation at the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Innovation Conference.

Supporting the assertion about the world being tremendously connected (especially via social networking), Matt offered several metrics:

  • Of the 6.8 billion people on Earth, 1.8 billion go online via PC, including 75% of North Americans.
  • There are 4 billion mobile phones globally and 6 billion wireless subscriptions.
  • 75% of the world visits a blog or social network when online, with social media accounting for 22% of total online time.
  • The average person in the US spends 16 hours online weekly vs. 11 hours watching TV.

 

When a majority of people are connected to both content and to each other (and each other’s networks and content), what strategies will winning brands be pursuing?

According to Matt, they’ll be:

  • Mobile – Winning brands understand the need to translate their web brand strategy specifically for mobile with everything it means for where, when, how, and why people are using mobile devices. Additionally, it will increasingly be about innovatively opening a brand’s experience to enhancements and developments from outside the brand – imagine an app store for your kitchen appliance, your car, your pet, etc.
  • Social – Winning brands will compellingly integrate personalization and customization into their online experiences. Beyond simple interaction, brands should be offering ways for audiences to attach their personal interests to experiences allowing them to create innovative impacts through their interactions with other audience members.
  • Relevant - In one of the most intriguing statements Matt made, he discussed how millennials are looking for both deep relationships and instant gratification – simultaneously. That’s something for brands to ponder – how do you find a “real” strategic intersection of these two desires? Matt suggested brands who find it will provide experiences which are less brand-referential and dramatically more about injecting legitimate value into experiences.

 

  • Transparent – The big phrase within social media and branding – transparency. Everybody says it; what does it really mean? Matt’s perspective is brands need to be true inside before trying to be true outside. With the technological tools now available to individuals to essentially broadcast (at least to their first line networks), they’ve been unleashed to hold brands to a strategic standard of, “Good for me. Good for you. Good for the planet.”

Matt wrapped by identifying mobile plus social media as the killer app. That prediction makes sense. With mobile not just broadly accessible, but actually surpassing the impact of PCs and TV in the near future, real life and online communication will intersect at every waking moment, and even the sleeping ones (as a sleep apnea app is already out there for the iPhone). If that potential for the rapid spread of any customer’s indignation isn’t enough to push brands toward transparency, it’s not hard to see them living on borrowed time in a comprehensively connected world. - 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 brand strategy firmly tied to business yet recognizing the impact of social networking on your customers.

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

A tenacious competitor can seem as daunting as a summer heat wave which won’t break for anything. If that describes your competitive strategy position, it can be difficult to devise an innovative strategy to win new business from a tough competitor.

Competitor Strategy to Lead to Business SuccessThere is a creative way to swat back a competitor, however, which takes its inspiration from another summer reality: mosquitoes. Just as a mosquito, despite its small size, can be a nuisance, you can do the same to a larger competitor!

Start with the profile you have on your competitor which should describe the competitor and its strengths, strategic focus areas, and overall direction. Add to the competitor profile your antagonist’s “dirty little secrets,” i.e. the problems it doesn’t want customers to know about, but are familiar to you within the industry.

Based on the specific intelligence in the competitor profile, start thinking creatively and strategically about how you can bite away at your competitor, generating ideas to really be a nuisance. Don’t worry about practicality; write down anything that comes to mind, no matter how outlandish, which could:

  • Exploit your competitor’s weaknesses and take business
  • Distract the attention of your competitor from its current strategy
  • Be an outrageous or funny claim you could make about the competitor
  • Annoy your competitor in innovative and maddening ways

You can do this exercise by yourself, but as you might have guessed, it’s a lot more fun and yields many more innovative ideas when you do it with a diverse team inside your company. Be sure to include salespeople because they have to directly deal with the competitor every day; that leads to great innovative ideas for winning new business.

After you’re done generating ideas, step back and evaluate how you can pursue the most strategically innovative ideas. Don’t dismiss really outlandish ideas outright. If there’s one idea that spurred laughter or excitement, even if you think it’s a crazy idea, ask how the idea could be made more strategically feasible.

Besides stretching your thinking, this strategy exercise to identify how to be a nuisance to your competitor should generate innovative, implementable strategies to help you compete more successfully and win new business. It should also create a greater sense of competitive surprise, biting the competitor before it even knows it – just like those pesky mosquitoes! – 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 develop a stronger competitor profile and create business building strategies to target big competitors more successfully.

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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1

Last Friday, July 9 was “Cow Appreciation Day” at Chick-fil-A. Customers dressing up as the company’s signature cow icon were rewarded with free meals (for a head-to-toe cow costume) and sandwiches (for any part of a cow costume). While there was a microsite set up for the day to allow customers to find locations and a Facebook page to upload photos, the interactive brand strategy was clearly geared toward a real life visit to a nearby Chick-fil-A restaurant.

We headed out for dinner on Cow Appreciation day and saw many customers more than happy to turn themselves into Chick-fil-A brand icons for a reward valued at less than $5.

What a brilliant interactive brand strategy to get your customers to jump through a pretty easy “brand” hoop in exchange for what a restaurant might give away on a typical “buy one get one free” coupon requiring no customer brand interaction other than showing up at the restaurant.

In this case, turning couponing into an interactive brand strategy delivering a memorable brand experience creates all kinds of residual brand value in stories, pictures, videos, and likely, increased people per ticket as we witnessed large groups routinely entering the restaurant we visited.

And what about my Cow Appreciation Day participation? We’ll I love free Chick-fil-A as much or more than the next person. I put on my Ben & Jerry cow socks and a cow beanie and collected my free sandwich as well!  – Mike Brown

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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