It has now been about 2 years since I left corporate life to make The Brainzooming Group a full-time effort. Last year on this date, I shared 25 lessons learned and reconfirmed during the first year of The Brainzooming Group. Here are 25 more lessons from year two away from corporate life, although it’s hard to say some of them didn’t originate in year one!

  • Peoples’ priorities, especially in corporations, change quickly. Things can go from hypercritical to off the list in what seems like minutes. Inside the corporation, you may not even notice. As a vendor, it can be crushing.
  • A lot of corporate life was filled with meetings. The absence of so many needless meetings creates a lot of time in your day.
  • Keep experimenting with pricing and other parts of the marketing mix ALL the time.
  • Taking a “friends and family” approach to business development is a good start, but it is hardly sufficient.
  • Get out of the office and see people.
  • I’d underestimated the business potential of Facebook. Now, I’m playing catch-up.
  • Go for unique, higher-risk opportunities than predictable, lower-risk opportunities that promise they’ll get better.
  • R.E.M. did things in their own way, at their own pace, in their own style. That’s a pretty solid long-term business strategy.
  • I’m not sure if absence makes the heart grow fonder, but 24/7 togetherness doesn’t.
  • If you’re willing to surrender your will to God, he’ll put you in the places you need to be.
  • When you’re in a big corporation, the last thing you may want is dealing with more people. When you’re an entrepreneur, that changes.
  • Frugality, frugality, frugality.
  • A one-tier cost structure is a recipe for failure at worst or stagnation at best.
  • At some point, you have to stop thinking you’re average at everything you do while still maintaining a strong sense of overall humility.
  • There were things I could afford to stay out of or not do in the corporate world that I can’t afford to avoid anymore.
  • You can’t over-estimate the impact of being able to stay calm during challenging times.
  • As difficult as it might be, you have to let go of previously strong professional relationships that turn non-reciprocal. Really cultivate the ones that do remain vibrant, though.
  • Go out of your way to meet new people you would never have expected to meet. Go out of your way to re-meet people who pass through after long absences. You never know how your life will be changed by it.
  • Don’t wait for someone to join you. Go ahead and try it yourself.
  • As important as a tight team is, go to unfamiliar people for reactions, because you’ll get a much more accurate perspective.
  • It’s okay to take the risk that something you walk away from will hit really big for someone else. You can’t pursue everything.
  • Life is really incredible if you allow it to be incredible. Many times “incredible” materializes because you haven’t directly intervened in mucking up the ordinary.
  • It’s easy to slide backward – really easy. If you’re going to slide backward, do it consciously, not accidentally.
  • You need a business model, not just an idea. A business model can sustain you for an extended period of time. Ideas have to be continually replenished. Continually replenishing ideas for an extended period of time can drain you beyond recovery.
  • Wait for it.

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 info@brainzooming.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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus

Continue Reading


The Brainzooming Group helped shape an intriguing project featuring two graduate level marketing communications classes at the University of Kansas. Students in Max Utsler’s “Innovations in Marketing Communications” class and Barrett Sydnor’s “Integrated Marketing Communications and Sales Strategy” class are writing blog posts during the semester on topics related to the classes, including branding, marketing, social media, experience marketing, and innovation.

Working with a number of Brainzooming friends who publish popular blogs in these areas, we’ll be running a number of blogs from students in these two classes. Max Utsler dubbed the project “Blogapalooza,” and today, we’re publishing the first guest Blogapalozza post on Brainzooming.

Today’s author, Patrick Kerr, lives and works in the Kansas City area. His interests include good food, fishing, and finding new hobbies to take his mind off the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals. Today he takes up the question of the impact Groupon has on customer service – both for the provider and the customer:


My wife and I recently spent our wedding anniversary at an upscale restaurant hailed by critics for its outstanding food and ambience. The owner of the establishment is a highly accomplished chef who enjoys a stellar reputation in local and national culinary circles. He is one of a few true culinary celebrities who live in our area and has won numerous accolades for his cooking skills. As self-proclaimed “foodies,” we couldn’t wait to celebrate the occasion over a gourmet meal and fine wine. Even better, my wife purchased a Groupon for the restaurant so we felt like we could splurge without feeling too guilty.

The day of our reservation, I checked out the restaurant’s ratings on Yelp and was surprised to find so many negative reviews. The reviews spanned from mildly critical to downright nasty. Not exactly what you’d expect from a four-star restaurant. Of the bad write-ups, there were two common denominators: poor service and Groupon. Prior to the Groupon introduction, the marks were consistently positive if not gushing with praise. It was only in retrospect that I made the connection.

So how did our dining experience turn out? The food lived up to its excellent reputation, but the only way to get our server’s attention was to flail my arms about like some over-eager 2nd grader dying to be called on by the teacher. If anything, service at a four-star restaurant should border on hovering. This felt more as if we were being quarantined for some highly contagious virus. I’ve had better service at Waffle House. At least they refill your drinks once in a while. We couldn’t help but think that our early admission of using the Groupon had an overall negative impact on service. It turns out we were in good company. Apparently, Groupon and poor customer service go hand-in-hand.

Customer Service Rating of Groupon Users

Additional research revealed a direct link between the use of Groupon and a negative service experience. The above graph is from a study conducted by Cornell researchers who studied over 16,000 Groupon Deals in 20 US cities between January and July this year. The study found, among other things, that Groupon users averaged a 10% lower rating than those who didn’t use Groupon.

So why does Groupon promote bad customer service? From the merchant’s perspective, Groupon often means more trouble than it’s worth. The servers I’ve spoken with all complain that users frequently tip on the discounted amount, and not on the actual amount of the food. For expensive restaurants like the one we went to, that could mean the difference of $100 – $200.  In fact, our receipt clearly read what the amount would have been prior to the discount. Obviously, that is a sore point that needs addressed.

If Groupon wants to establish a loyal following, they need to make it clear to partners that they must uphold a certain standard of service and refuse to do business with those restaurants that won’t commit to those terms. Perhaps establish a “code of excellence” that becomes synonymous with their brand.  Groupon’s reputation and the reputation of the restaurants they do business with depend on it.

Have you had a negative Groupon experience? If so, please share it in the comments below. -Patrick Kerr 

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus

Continue Reading


I had a great opportunity to participate in a panel presentation Wednesday at the Association of Fundraising Professionals, MO, Mid-America Chapter along with Dave Svet of Spur Communications and Patrick Sallee of the American Red Cross, Greater Kansas City Chapter. The topic was “Can Your Smartphone Be a Smart Fundraiser? Mobile fundraising and other “Smart” Strategies.” Short story, we all approached it from a social networking and mobile strategy angle, with insights applicable to nonprofits and for-profit businesses both.

The Other Speakers

Patrick Sallee covered actual case studies of “text to give” from his career. Patrick addressed the upsides (significant impact opportunities when tied to an attention-getting event) and downsides (set-up and ongoing costs, long payment processing cycles, challenges in reaching sufficient scale). The net of his remarks was that “text to give” yields on average about $1000 for a charity, which makes pursuing this social networking strategy not widely viable.

Dave Svet provided a solid overview of the technical opportunities and challenges of mobile giving. He covered smart phone trends that will make mobile giving more seamless domestically in a few years. Near-term, Dave underscored the importance of a mobile-enabled website and the opportunity to develop app-like features within a web environment at significantly less cost than creating custom apps.

Mobile Content Marketing Strategy

I presented on content marketing strategies for nonprofits before fund raising even starts. The mobile content marketing ideas were tied to a social networking impact model The Brainzooming Group uses. The social networking impact model is focused on maximizing audience interests, how to create compelling communication within a mobile strategy, and methods to employ social networking most effectively in sharing an organization’s stories with its key audiences.

Here are five key social networking points from my section on mobile content marketing:

  • It is no surprise that spouses, relatives, friends, and experts are more important to consumer brand decisions than having a Facebook or Twitter page. Two big opportunities exist for brands in social networking, though. These opportunities are to share content and a personality which moves a brand into a friend or expert role and to provide content to individual social network members they can readily and credibly share within their own social networks.
  • Develop relevant personas for important audiences to improve addressing audience needs and interests with your content. Write content for individuals (not for the masses) about what your organization thinks, knows, and does.
  • In a mobile environment, compelling communication requires brevity, direct calls to action, integrated messaging, a mobile-enabled website, and easy ways to invite people to deeper information.
  • When making the move from solely traditional communication vehicles (annual reports, quarterly newsletters, events, etc.) to include social media, take advantage of the opportunity for greater frequency to share a more complete organizational message. Quarterly Facebook status updates do not cut it.
  • In addition to sharing stories of the people and personalities associated with your organization, make it easy for your audience to share your content via social sharing.

What Questions Does this Prompt?

Beyond the talks from Patrick Sallee, Dave Svet, and me, there were some intriguing questions from the group on social networking, technology, and content marketing. Look for a future post addressing audience questions from the Association of Fundraising Professionals session on social networking and mobile content marketing strategy. Do you have any questions you’d like to throw in the mix before that post? – Mike Brown


If you’re struggling with determining ROI and evaluating its impacts, download “6 Social Media Metrics You Must Track” today!  This article provides a concise, strategic view of the numbers and stories that matter in shaping, implementing, and evaluating your strategy. You’ll learn lessons about when to address measurement strategy, identifying overlooked ROI opportunities, and creating a 6-metric dashboard. Download Your Free Copy of “6 Social Media Metrics You Must Track!”

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus

Continue Reading


Seems like everybody is a “solutions provider” these days. Whether you make a product, provide a service, or do just about anything, you better be telling clients you’re a  “business solutions provider.” In the past, it used to be all about “answers,” but when everybody started doing that, “solutions provider” became the new buzzphrase for every vendor to tout.

Having had a lot of vendors call on me in my corporate life talking about being a solutions provider, I became very skeptical about the buzzphrase and what business expertise might really be behind it.

What Does It Really Mean to Provide Solutions

In light of that, it was refreshing at an event I was helping produce recently to hear a business-to-business services customer offer his perspective on what being a business solutions provider really means for him. While his list was industry specific, his remarks prompted this short list of questions a vendor (or their business clients) should be able to answer “yes” to if solutions really are part of the equation:

This list clearly just skims the surface. For those of you buying business products and services from companies claiming to provide solutions, what do you think separates  companies really solving challenges from the posers who claim to but don’t?

– 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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus

Continue Reading


Suppose a collaborative business blog is part of  the right social media strategy for your business, but senior management has concerns about blogging. Not the kinds of concerns which make senior management demand, “Absolutely do not create a collaborative blog.” No, we’re talking passive-aggressive concerns where senior management will allow (or potentially encourage) a collaborative blog to be developed. Right before the blog goes live, however, they clamor for multiple review points on each blog post so management is comfortable nothing will happen (in every sense of the word, unfortunately).

What do you do?

How do you protect the timeliness, relevance, and personal feel a successful collaborative business blog should have from death through a thousand – okay, I’m exaggerating…make it “ten” – senior management tinkerers?

Determining the Underlying Senior Management Concerns

The first step is better understanding and narrowing in on the nature of your senior management group’s challenges. You can do this by probing on a variety of potential issues that might drive their concern. You have to find out if their concerns about a collaborative business blog stem from content which:

  • Violates confidentiality
  • Is incorrect
  • Damages customer relationships
  • Compromises professional standards
  • Is off brand for your company
  • Is personally inappropriate or objectionable
  • Could trigger regulatory or legal issues

Figure out which of these (or other issues) are the real pain points with a collaborative business blog. Additionally, determine who would need to review blog posts to relieve the pain for each area of concern.

Addressing the Underlying Issues

Based on the conversation’s outcome and the breadth of the reviewer list, one of a few possibilities will likely materialize:

  • Upon discussion, you’re able to mitigate the concerns either at the start, or perhaps after some initial “learning curve” period, OR
  • The number of people who’d need to review posts is manageable within your blogging process, OR
  • The level of review is so great it will be burdensome or even crippling to the business blogging effort

If the last bullet is where you wind up, it’s far better finding out ahead of time before launching a blog hampered by its inability to function at an appropriate social media pace.

At this point, it’s critical to get creative with alternative ideas to simplify an unwieldy process, take more comprehensive steps to ally their concerns, or in the extreme, delay or pull the plug on the collaborative blog before it becomes one of those “they started it, but it died out in about two month” blogs.

And nobody wants that.  – 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’ve developed  integrated social media strategy for other brands and can do the same for yours.

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus

Continue Reading


Coca-Cola has introduced a new Diet Coke can design for fall 2011, with Turner Duckworth, a design firm based in San Francisco, re-imagining the familiar Diet Coke can. The most striking element is the logo is blown up in size, making the script “D” in Diet the only letter of the major brand logo which appears fully on the can! This move with the Diet Coke brand holds both great strategic branding and creativity lessons.

5 Branding and Creativity Lessons

1. The Diet Coke logo violates the can’s physical space.

Absent the self-imposed restriction of  containing what you’re doing to the physical space available to you, all kinds of new creativity options open up. How often do we ask about how much of something we have to fill? Forget that. Fill up the creatively appropriate amount of what needs to be filled without a concern for physical space or completeness boundaries.

2. You can be bold and still hedges some bets.

For all the boldness of not including the product’s full name in the major logo treatment, Coca-Cola hedges its bets with 4 other full, albeit smaller, logos on the can. It pulls the design back from being completely edgy, but it strikes a good balance between creativity and brand imperatives. Some will claim though that hedging bets went into overkill mode with 4 other logos.

3. Incompleteness creates attention.

Since the major logo doesn’t fully display the product’s name, it creates both attention (from a new, striking design) and forces the customer to use imagination to fill in what’s missing. When you can get an aluminum can to tweak engagement, you have a winner on your hands.

4. You CAN stretch your strengths.

Coca-Cola knows it can take advantage of an iconic logo’s ability to be stretched to freshen it and create interest. When a brand element is so well known (in this case, the logo), it’s an opportunity to play against the strength and expand how people view the brand. And what applies to consumer and business brands applies to personal brands, too. It’s important though to know how much of a stretch people will accept from the brand before making a move. You want to stretch, but not break your brand.

5. Not every promotional offer is about price.

Too often, we think of a promotion (which one of my mentor’s drilled into me is “a short term change in the marketing mix”) as only focusing on price, discount, or “get more for your dollar right now” offers. If you look at any element of the marketing mix as a promotional opportunity, however, you can easily get to a short term revamp of a packaging design. Additionally, as an AdWeek article points out, Coca-Cola has also introduced a short term change in the publicity element of the marketing mix, by being a bit mysterious about how long the can change will last.


What are your thoughts about the Diet Coke can change? Is it simply interesting or do you think people will drink more Diet Coke than they would already have this fall?

To me, it’s a really smart promotion with strong banding and creativity lessons. Plus this move is a relatively easy strategy others could employ, if they’re smart about it and have strong enough logo recognition in their own market to pull it off successfully.  – 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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus

Continue Reading


Tanner Christensen has been making regular comments on Brainzooming this year, and when he reached out recently to go a guest post, I was excited to have him share longer-form content. Tanner Christensen is a leading creative thinker, entrepreneur, and founder of the creative digital publishing company A Spindle. He frequently writes on creativity and innovation and believes that your ideas can help change the world.

Here’s Tanner on what has set Apple apart from other organizations that also  have great ideas, but stall out in their growth.


In June of 2007 Apple Inc. made a bold move into a market they had never touched.

To nearly everyone’s surprise, one of the top — but, notably, not the top — computer manufacturers had created a mobile phone. Of course, it was more than just a phone, but the move was unexpected and entirely different than what most people had come to imagine was possible from a computer company.  The creation of the iPhone proved to be valuable for Apple as, near the middle of the year 2011, the company owned roughly 19% of the entire U.S. mobile market.

Rare is a tech company the size of Apple who can report annual growth of 125% year over year. So how did they do it?

What It Takes for Real Growth

The truth is that growth comes from change. But even that’s an understatement. Real growth comes from paddling.

Businesses that have succeeded in the past — Myspace, Yahoo!, Nokia — grew to a comfortable place and then stopped innovating. The process of growing was, as they saw it, a natural one that follows any business which reaches a certain size. These were businesses that had worked hard to reach a point where they felt confident in moving forward without having to try anything new. Why would you continue to worry about producing new products or services when your existing products had sold so well to-date? When you’re floating down a river in a canoe and suddenly find yourself in the most beautiful spot along the entire river, what reason do you have to paddle forward and explore further territory?

Unfortunately in business, as in a real life canoe trip down the river, storms are to be expected.

One day you’re safe and comfortable, floating gently down the stream of success, and then suddenly there’s a competitor, a better or cheaper product, a new innovation you never saw coming. For Nokia and Microsoft the storm was the iPhone. For Myspace it was Facebook and now Google+. If you’re in business then a storm is coming, you can count on it, you just don’t know what shape that storm will be.

So what should you do? Paddle. Keep moving forward.

A Dedicated Creative Team’s Role

Investing in a dedicated creative team is the best way to keep moving forward. Whether you’re a large corporation or a freelancer, you have to focus on exploring uncharted territory, otherwise you’re sitting in a river under a darkening sky.

For Apple there isn’t any hesitation, they have an entire team of leaders who are focused on moving the business forward every single day. Steve Jobs isn’t a product designer or marketing executive, he’s a thinker. For the rest of us the choice remains: hire someone to help move ideas forward (not just keep existing structures going), find the flexibility to make your current team dedicate part of their work hours to doing so, or face the impending storm and find yourself dead in the water. Sure, focusing on innovation can be risky, but without it you’re already dead.

Even if you’re a new business just starting out, focus on exploring new territories, as success is surely around one of the river bends.

A dedicated creative team can help paddle your corporate boat upstream, pursuing ideas and making them a reality. As a creative thinker the job description isn’t to just show up and do the necessary work; it’s to come up with ideas and see them through. To physically take action and move the whole boat of business forward. Sometimes that means failure. Sometimes an idea will sink into the abyss, and sometimes things will break, but as long as you’re continuously moving, there is no way your boat will be swallowed by the storm.

Keep Moving

As a business or even in your career, look at ways you’re sitting in the water now. Understand that the longer you simply sit there the longer you risk drowning. You should be paddling your way up the river and discovering what’s new. That’s where the real adventure lies. Just ahead. Keep moving. – Tanner Christensen 

Guest Author

The Brainzooming blog has a wonderful group of guest authors who regularly contribute their perspectives on strategy, creativity, and innovation. You can view guest author posts by clicking on the link below.

More Posts

Continue Reading