Performance | The Brainzooming Group - Part 5 – page 5
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Are your employees celebrities within your branding strategy activities?

No, I’m not asking whether your employees are movie stars, singers, or newly-celebrated personalities that tweet, buy, or glom their way into celebrity status.

I’m asking about whether you feature your employees within your branding strategy in ways that allow them to attract attention and accolades for how great it is to have them as part of your brand?

Employer Branding Strategy Stars

Talking with a B2B company about a day-long customer program, I suggested they invite employees to fill various roles at the event. These duties would give customers exposure to smart, strategic, and dynamic team members they might never typically know. It would create the opportunity to celebrate the great people at the brand. Incorporating these interactions in its branding strategy could strengthen relationships, open doors to new business possibilities, and reinforce customer perceptions that they have chosen the best service provider.

Want to guess the response to the idea?

“Great idea, but everybody is really busy. We can’t pull them away from their regular jobs for even a few hours.”

I understand that EVERYBODY is CRAZY busy. Busy is about doing what the company does. Busy is at the heart of selling and producing revenue and profit growth.

Yet brand building (via creating stronger relationships and perceptions) is integral to the company being able to sell more, do more, and make more money. And opportunities to foster customer relationships in ways that strengthen the brand outside of the day-to-day of doing business are typically rare. While it appears to be a great business decision to ensure everybody is in place to perform their daily tasks, this represents a poor branding strategy decision.

If the company thought about its employees as business celebrities, its priorities would likely differ. They would probably not hesitate to put their important customers in direct contact with their employee celebrities to get to know them better and bask in their glow.

Against that backdrop, let me ask the question again: Are your employees celebrities within your branding strategy activities?

And if you answer, no, COULD and SHOULD they be?  – Mike Brown

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Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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It’s time to launch an innovation strategy for your organization. Your brand has grown dramatically the last few years. You are not sure, however, what will drive the next round of growth. So, it’s time to announce an innovation program, because that will undoubtedly fill the growth gap facing your brand.

How will the innovation strategy eliminate your revenue shortfalls? That is not yet completely clear yet. But, hey, it’s an innovation strategy! All kinds of good things are sure to result!!!

As you and your leadership team announce the new innovation strategy, your employees have questions.

6 Things about Your Innovation Strategy Employees Need to Know

Here are six things about your innovation strategy employees want to know. Are you prepared to answer these questions?

Is this innovation push just for this quarter or this year?

Your employees have been through the flavor-of-the-month strategy. Probably not at YOUR company, but somewhere they worked before, no doubt. They know innovation strategies come and go. They will want to know whether your innovation strategy is here to stay. Demonstrating that it is will take both words and LOTS of actions.

How innovative do you want us to be?

The easy answer is to say you are looking for big ideas. Who doesn’t love big ideas? The problem: asking for big ideas rarely leads to big ideas. Instead, give your team creative thinking questions appropriately sized to the innovation you are seeking. Then, let them go to town answering the questions.

What expectations or limits are in place on an innovation strategy?

I know, I know. You want your employees to start with a clean sheet of paper as they start imagining the future. Be honest, though. You’ve never given them free reign before to innovate. Do everyone a favor. Share goals, objectives, and strategies for where you want to direct your innovation strategy. You’ll ALL be more successful. Pinky swear.

What are you going to do with our ideas?

If you announce you want everyone to innovate, you need to have thought upfront about how you are actually going to review and process the ideas your employees share. Have you figured that out? We didn’t think so. Identify the process, THEN make your big innovation strategy announcement.

Will I get into trouble if I break something?

Your employees are concerned about getting into trouble. As much as you SAY you want disruptive innovation, they have doubts. Heck, we were talking with a new CEO recently. His board told him to be both innovative and to not mess anything up with the organization. He’s running the show and struggling to find the right balance. You can imagine how someone with less standing in the organization struggles. Stake out a penalty-free free space in which your team can experiment and break things.

Who owns my idea if it turns into something successful?

I hate all the legal mumbo jumbo. But innovation is all fun until somebody’s idea starts generating lots of money, and you have to settle up equitably. Let your team know the rules. Who owns what? How much does everyone get paid for an idea that proves successful? It can seem premature to consider this while still figuring out how an electronic idea box works. Set the rules before you ask people to play the innovation strategy game.

There Is Work to Do

We’re not saying everything requires an immediate answer. Being ready to tackle these questions at the start, however, is important to creating an innovation strategy that WORKS! – Mike Brown

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Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Last week’s “Inside the Executive Suite” from Armada Corporate Intelligence featured ideas for how to handle confidential information. The business strategy focus revolved around how an executive can maintain confidences while employing confidential information to best benefit his or her organization. While passing along confidential information was more in the news last week than this week, it’s a daily issue in business.

Here are ideas the Armada newsletter shared on how to handle confidential information:

Business Strategy – How to Handle Confidential Information via Inside the Executive Suite

Confidential information has been in the news recently. It is a topic relevant to any senior executive immersed in business strategy. While the nation wrestles over handling confidential information in a government setting with geopolitical implications, similar and dissimilar questions exist in private business. Beyond trade secrets and insider knowledge that could move markets, organizations consider a wide variety of information as confidential.

How should you go about handling confidential information within your business strategy?

What are the different varieties, the implications behind a confidential information designation, and the way executives are using it?

These questions drove a chat with a former Fortune 500 executive about how he navigated confidential information at senior levels. It was not a legal conversation (so don’t take his comments as legal advice). His strategies suggest a real-world, pragmatic approach to protecting confidences while getting work done.

One Executive’s Take on Using Confidential Information

“Unless I’m too far removed from it to remember, I don’t recall any extensive training in business school about confidential information. While we undoubtedly covered it in class, I learned the ins and outs of confidential information on the job. When I worked on the consulting side, that was largely client information. In the Fortune 500 world, it was dealing with our own business information. Honestly, ‘confidential’ was as much code for ‘don’t tell anyone this’ as it was legally confidential information.”

Market-Moving and Insider Information

“The first consideration is whether the information has legal implications. Information that moves markets, is insider knowledge, contains trade secrets, or has some other legal standing must be handled with the strictest confidence. In these cases, you sign legal documents with specific parameters. I read through what I’m signing and strictly apply the restrictions. If something is unclear to you, reach out to your legal staff for advice so you have a clear, actionable guideline to work with as you conduct business.”

Via Shutterstock

Handling Business Strategy

“Much of what I dealt with involved information that an organization does not want disclosed because it changes the business and competitive environments, typically for the worse. Maybe there is paperwork attached to disclosing this type of information. Sometimes someone passes along information and declares it confidential as they spill the beans to you about something. These are tricky situations because they center around your ethics and smart business practices.

“What I do in these situations is step back and think about what the information means for daily and longer-term business. For example, in a corporate parent role, one of our subsidiaries had to disclose a new service offering it was planning. When the new service reached the market, the staff of another, competitive subsidiary visited my office to try to understand the market implications. The plan had to remain confidential to protect business relationships. I applied my knowledge of the new service offering to prompt them with questions they needed to ask or service implications they might need to explore. The questions were what I might have suggested if a competitor outside our corporate family had made a similar move.

“That kind of upfront exploration may suggest that activities currently underway might be more important, or less important, based on confidential information. In these cases, try to offer guidance or manage priorities to foster smart business decisions without disclosing confidential knowledge. Provide context to others so they think about their activities in a bigger or slightly different way that better fits a future outcome. Do this by finding a relationship between current, publicly-known strategies and what will happen as you implement confidential information.

“This happens with branding changes. Executives cannot disclose exact branding moves to their teams before public announcements. However, waiting to tell employees until after the market has learned the information leaves employees ill-equipped to support the change. I suggest finding ideas you can share with employees to prepare them for change without disclosing confidential information. If a rebranding will more heavily emphasize an aspect of a brand that exists today, ramp up the emphasis ahead of time. This is not necessarily easy, but savvy executives find ways to apply confidential information to maximize the impact as early as possible without compromising confidentiality.”

When You Can’t Say, or Don’t Know

“When there’s a buzz about something confidential in a company, it creates questions about what the secrets are. Some questions are point blank; others are more subtle. If you are in the know and receiving those questions, how do you handle it? It is important for me to never lie to people. I suggest executives develop an answer to questions about confidential information that they use in every instance, whether the person asking is on the right track or not. One example might be, ‘I can’t and don’t speculate about rumors.’ Rather than lying to someone accurately asking about a confidential matter (by telling them an emphatic ‘no’ to correct information), using a non-committal response is truthful and protects your own reputation.

“On the topic of consistency, in some cases, you may not know confidential information but have to continue your work. I’d analyze these situations after the fact to understand what the indicators were for the confidential situation. For example, when our company considered M&A activity, I’d receive certain questions about competitors’ market positions. The questions were always about multiple competitors, never one. The questions surfacing became a signal a deal might be in the works. That consistency helped me be more effective for the company without ever having to know the specifics of a confidential matter.”

Only One Point of View

These suggestions are from one individual. They are not legal advice about confidentiality. But they do suggest the importance of creating the policy and practices that work best for your organization.   – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 

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I was thinking about tables recently, and the role they play in creating or thwarting team collaboration.

A table can…

Provide distance and separation between participants

That can be both healthy or disastrous. It’s easy to use distance and opposition (as in sitting on directly opposite sides of the table) to foster disagreement, aggression, and otherness. In different situations, distance around a table can offer space for individual reflection or a couple of people to collaborate without being drawn into something bigger.

Idea: Arrange people purposefully and keep moving them around.

Serve as a hiding place

If it is your intention, you can use a table’s shapes and angles and how people fill them up to keep yourself out of view and out of the team conversation. You may use the hiding place to observe, look away, or plan what you do when you emerge from hiding.

Idea: A facilitator needs to draw people out of hiding places.

Create clutter

A too big table or too many tables in a too small room, can fill all the available space people need to move around both physically and mentally. They can eliminate any flexibility a space might offer.

Idea: Pay attention to how many table you are using and not using. Get rooms with way more square footage than you think you will need.

Establish power

Sitting at the front, sitting at the back, or sitting at a corner can, depending on who is doing the sitting, change the power dynamics for the entire group.

Idea: Use tables without corners and avoid creating a clear front of the room.

Be purely functional

It provides a place to put your arms, bang your head (or your fist), take notes, hold your drink, plug in your computer. You hope it affords an arrangement that lets you see what you need to see and is a jumping off point for people to productively collaborate.

Idea: Match the right table to what you will need it for throughout the meeting.

Team Collaboration with No Table at All

This thinking inspired something we’ll be doing soon: eliminate the tables and use only a few chairs. Provide the right amount of space to make it both inviting and slightly awkward.

We look forward to seeing what using no tables at all will do for creating or thwarting team collaboration. – Mike Brown

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Following up the post about why so many mid-career marketers have missed out on becoming outstanding content strategists, Emma Alvarez Gibson, from our West Coast (or Best Coast) Brainzooming HQ, is here discussing the steps to become a content strategist and avoid marketing career extinction.

How to Become a Content Strategist and Avoid Becoming Extinct by Emma Alvarez Gibson

Once I was a creative writer.

Then I was marcomm. Then I was a copywriter. These days, I’m a content strategist.

Titles change; it’s a fact of Western business life. But in this space, that’s not all that’s changed. Take a good look at the job description for any number of content strategist positions. More often than not, we aren’t just creating content. We’re managing SEO and Google Analytics, editing images and graphics in PhotoShop and InDesign, sending and tracking emails via a CMS or two. Or seven.  

I’ll admit it was a transition I came to reluctantly, and with a fair degree of resentment. Look, I remember saying, If I’d wanted to be a marketing analyst, I’d have become a marketing analyst. Are they also looking for chemical engineers who can rollerskate and sing opera? It seemed ridiculous and not a little unreasonable. But it’s been a few years now: I think that model’s going to be calling the shots for awhile.

Earlier this week, one of my fellow writers who’s looking for full-time employment expressed dismay over these broadly-drawn requirements, ending with: When did this happen? If you’ve not had to look for a job in a number of years, it’s a fair question. There were no announcements made. These expectations crept in slowly, like fog. When the market crashed in 2008, I saw many organizations let people go and distribute the resulting wealth of tasks among the employees who were left standing. No one’s going to complain about having a heavier load when their neighbor doesn’t have a job. You make it work. We all made it work as best we could.

Nine years later, here we are with a stronger economy and the continued legacy of these career mash-ups. We made it work, and we have to continue to make it work. That means getting on board with the expectations of our chosen field. It means stretching. Learn that CMS. Take the InDesign class. Familiarize yourself with basic photo editing. Pick up a copy of Web Analytics For Dummies. Read a few blog posts on how easy SEO really is. Things have changed, and that means we have to change. To deny it, to refuse, to stay stuck in the outrage, is professional suicide.

At the start of my career I worked at a PR firm. One of the publicists there was roughly 107 years old, to my twenty-something eyes. He was pure 1960s camp, only he didn’t know it. He seemed intrigued by the fact that women were in his workplace and held positions of authority. He referred to us, the assistants, as “the girls” (despite the fact that some of the assistants were, in fact male).  Best of all? He refused to have a computer in his office. He’d never needed one before, and he wasn’t going to start now. And if he did need to look something up that wasn’t in a book, “one of the girls” could do that for him. He repeated this speech often, and everyone would smile and nod, and wait for him to leave the room so they could roll their eyes and get back to work. He was a ridiculous old dinosaur.

But I’m not.

What about you? – Emma Alvarez Gibson

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I spoke about Social-First Content at the April 2017 Social Media Strategies Summit in Chicago. As always, I left this Social Media Strategies Summit with valuable insights on social content strategy plus great ideas for further developing our brand.

Social Media Strategists at the #SMSSummit

From this Social Media Strategies Summit, I took away a specific insight on the challenge for social media strategists.

With traditional marketing communication, there were numerous clear divisions among important roles:

  • Creative vs. analytical
  • Writing vs. visual communication
  • Strategy vs. design
  • Developing content vs. publishing content
  • Spokesperson vs. reporter
  • In front of the camera talent vs. behind the camera support
  • Media creation vs. media buying
  • Offline execution vs. online / technology execution
  • Mining customer and business insights vs. audience targeting

Looking back on the combined internal and external team we assembled to market our Fortune 500 B2B brand, we rarely had one person doing both sides of any of the pairs of talents and responsibilities above. Depending on a project’s size, in fact, there may be ten or more people involved across these roles.

Social Media Strategists Face Complex Roles

Now, consider today’s social communications landscape. The divisions between the complementary roles have largely disappeared. Today’s social media strategists must be functional, if not fully adept, at nearly all these roles to succeed.

This idea started developing for me as we started using Hubspot for inbound marketing. I’m continually moving between intense analytical and creative roles in developing and executing content-based workflows.

The realization really hit me while attending a Facebook list building, advertising, and re-marketing workshop at the Social Media Strategies Summit. The presenters covered audience targeting and Facebook advertising in detail. We don’t use Facebook advertising very aggressively, so the topic isn’t one that has occupied much of my attention. As workshop presenters continued, I recalled that in the corporate world, I told media buyers that I’d ask questions, but I understood they had a knowledge base that was difficult to have without living in their world. I depended on their expertise to guide and lead us toward accomplishing our marketing objectives.

Today, however, you can’t afford to make that distinction. Outstanding social media strategists must understand Facebook targeting, advertising, and remarketing. It’s just as important as understanding the fundamentals of writing a compelling story. They also must understand everything else on the list of communication roles.

Sure, in a smaller organization, I’m now taking on many more communication roles than as a VP in a Fortune 500 organization. A team of ten no longer exists for me. Talking with other attendees at the Social Media Strategies Summit, though, it’s clear a team of ten doesn’t exist for many of them either – even within large organizations.

Why Many Mid-Career Marketers Are Dinosaurs

Put all this together, and I think it explains why I see so many mid-career marketers are dinosaurs, either limiting themselves in comfortable, but career-threatening ways (“I just do PR” or “I write but don’t do SEO”), or floundering while they rework the calculations on how much longer until they have enough money to retire.

The much smaller group is leveraging career experience and diving into social content strategy with a passion. These folks are learning to become perhaps the best-positioned marketers: they heave experience AND social sensibilities.

Seeing this landscape for mid-career marketers is why I encourage them to attend as many social content marketing events and conferences as possible. It’s the foreseeable future. If they want to be a part of that future AND get paid, they must be aggressive and prepare to work with multiple generations that grew up in a marketing world where role divisions that made sense ten years ago no longer apply. – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

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Are you involved with the strategic planning process for your organization?

That could involve leading it, participating in it, or trying to influence the strategic planning process so it delivers more value and better results for the organization?

7 Strategic Planning Process Challenges You Can Fix!

Typical complaints about a strategic planning process

If you have a role in strategic planning, do any of these describe your situation?

  • You have a strategic plan completed by a small senior leadership team. Key leaders in the organization now won’t embrace the strategic plan because they weren’t involved in developing it.
  • You are a board member of a non-profit that’s doing great work, yet the board is apprehensive about whether the dynamic executive director has a plan and is grooming successors. The executive director, on the other hand, is not inclined to want to complete a strategic plan.
  • You have just taken over leadership of a company. You are starting to see where you most need to make progress. Your next challenge is communicating the vision and getting your new, senior team onboard.
  • Your organization is pursuing lots of good ideas. All the good ideas are getting in the way of the game-changing idea you need to develop and successfully implement.
  • You have a major strategic move to make with the company. You need to ensure you are considering every potential option to ensure you’re pursuing the smartest possible direction.
  • You have the okay for a more robust strategic planning process. You don’t have the expertise or experience for delivering on the expectations you’ve created. And now you’re scared.
  • Your senior leadership team held a meeting to develop a strategic plan. You had tons of great conversation, but no one wrote anything down that you can now implement.

These are just a few of the situations where we have helped organizations embrace a different type of collaborative strategic planning process.

If you find yourself on this list, contact us and let’s talk before this year’s strategic planning season starts. We’d love to share ideas with you on how to derive more results from the time investment you will be making in planning your organization’s future!  – Mike Brown

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Create the Vision to Align and Engage Your Team!

Big strategy statements shaping your organization needn’t be complicated. They should use simple, understandable, and straightforward language to invite and excite your team to be part of the vision.

Our free “Big Strategy Statements” eBook lays out an approach to collaboratively develop smart, strategic directions that improve results!


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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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