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On Thursday, I participated on an innovation panel at The Entrepreneurship Institute President’s Forum at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center. The panel featured leaders from three outstanding Kansas City business innovation successes, each using a different strategy to break through typical business innovation barriers:

Gina Danner, CEO of Mail Print - Rather than defining the business as a “printer” and riding the secular decline of printed matter right into the ground, Gina has defined her business based on the assets, talents, and tools it has (or can put to use). As a result, Gina pursued technology and variable printing capabilities well in advance of competitors. Mail Print is thus positioned to not simply print things, but to drive revenue for its clients. The company has also looked to electronic delivery of messages because it’s part of the right answer to an important client question: “What are you trying to accomplish?”

Brian Weaver, Founder and CEO of Anthem Media Group - A key aspect of the Anthem Media Group back story is Brian’s former employer essentially telling him to stuff his new business ideas. After enough NO’s, Brian (who describes himself as a serial entrepreneur) took his ideas and started his own business. The ultimate comeuppance was several years later when he bought his former employer. Brian talked about going against conventional wisdom to strategically start and acquire businesses in the midst of the 2008-2009 economic collapse. By refusing to listen to the NO’s thrown in his way, Brian’s built a successful multi-media publishing business.

Aaron Zack, CEO of SunlightenSeveral years ago, Aaron thought his company had a clear product advantage with its saunas. A trip to China and visits to several factories manufacturing inferior quality knock-offs of his product changed that perception. His response was to harness the internal expertise of his team, but not just the typical innovators. Aaron brought together a truly cross-functional group (even the accountants) to work on the product innovation challenge. With a diverse team and an intuitive understanding of what customers might want, Sunlighten is introducing a truly unique sauna product using the full infrared spectrum to provide different types of health benefits. After several years of development, the sauna’s launch is imminent.

Great stories and three entrepreneurs with strong strategic handles on their respective businesses. – 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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It’s always interesting to learn about what you do through someone else’s eyes. When there’s an opportunity for candid feedback, use it to refine your business strategy and look more innovatively at your performance.

The Brainzooming™ Group had a wonderful opportunity to get reactions to our strategic planning process last week from Nate Riggs. Nate started Social Business Strategies to help mid-sized & large organizations develop social media strategies and build internalized Human Business Teams.

Last Tuesday, The Brainzooming Group facilitated a large (35 person) social media strategic planning session for a four-year university. Nate Riggs was invaluable for his experience in working with other higher educational institutions on social media approaches.

We modified several Brainzooming strategy-building exercises to facilitate the large group and came away with great learnings. Nate’s first-time reactions to how we efficiently and effectively manage strategic conversations were also helpful in continuing to refine our process. You can get a quick sense of Nate’s views in this video and in his follow-up blog post on the strategic planning session.

Take a look, and let us know any questions you have on the approach, either for large groups or for developing social media strategy. – 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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The Free State Social took place in Lawrence, KS, April 27-28, 2010. The program featured a great line-up of social media luminaries from both the national and regional scene. Based on a prior client commitment developing its social media strategy (the topic for tomorrow’s post), it wasn’t practical to be able to attend the Free State Social. Based on all the great tweets and video coming from the conference, however, it was clearly a innovative environment at the new Oread Hotel in Lawrence.

Tara Saylor Litzenberger was one of the attendees, and from the enthusiasm of her tweets, I asked her to recap her take-aways for Brainzooming readers. Tara describes herself as an “easily-amused web nerd who writes about farm equipment for a living.” She readily cops to shameless addictions to coffee, Twizzlers, and Lolcats. And although Tara says she seldom leaves comments on blogs (something she plans to remedy), I’m glad she decided to guest post and share her highlights from the Free State Social:

I love, love, LOVED the Free State Social. I freely admit I’m the biggest nerd in my department, possibly the entire office, so it was a real treat to spend time with like-minded nerds to talk about the state of the social internet– and its future.

Archives of the presentations will be online soon- watch @FreeStateSocial for updates- and there are tons of great tweets summarizing the event.

Some of my big take-aways:

  • It’s just another channel - Chris Brogan started the day by refusing to even talk about Twitter, and Jeremiah Owyang closed by reminding everyone not to fall in love with the tools you use. It was refreshing to hear because social media is the shiny new buzzword in corporate America, but the principles of using it effectively are the same marketing principles as we’ve been using for years.
  • Have a strategy before you start - Jeremiah went so far as to say that if your company doesn’t have support systems in place, don’t even engage. Again, it sounds perfectly logical, but it gets lost in all the “you gotta get a twitter account” hype.
  • Real time is not fast enough – Companies need to have a plan to deal with ugly situations before they happen. Letting something sit overnight- or worse, for an entire weekend- simply isn’t an option.

There were a few other topics that came up that really got me thinking, too:

Bloggers as Journalists

There was a lot of discussion around bloggers as journalists, which makes a lot of sense considering the event was sponsored by a news organization and the whole Gizmodo iPhone case was a current event in the online community.

But do all bloggers need to be counted as journalists? I blog, but I tend to post funny stories about daily life, not news. I don’t worry about citing my sources because my source is almost always me.

Then again, there are some basic tenets to content creation I’m following. I’m using my own pictures. I don’t try to pass off someone else’s work as mine. I give credit (and links) where credit is due. They’re the same rules I’ve been following in my professional life as a copywriter, but they’re also ingrained into journalism.

Vocal Critics

The second area I’d have like to talk about more was vocal minorities and backlash. There was a brief discussion around the Motrin Mom debacle, but it was largely around response times. We all know that there are passionate influencers out there, and as marketers, we try to reach them.

But is there a point when a vocal minority starts taking a brand hostage, along the lines of Green Peace and Nestle? Does an angry YouTube video become the digital equivalent of rappelling into a shareholders meeting?

We’ve come to accept that there are audiences that will never be happy with your company, no matter what it does, but where are the lines? Especially if you work for a company that people love to hate, like Monsanto?

The best part of an event like the Free State Social? Thanks to all the tools we use (Twitter, Facebook, even email and Google Buzz), the conversation isn’t going to stop just because the event is over.  – Tara Saylor Litzenberger

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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.

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As the Tuesday post highlighted, we participated in the Freelance Exchange of Kansas City Portfolio Showcase yesterday. It was an experiment with some clear positives and a lot of “we’ll sees” based on recapping our strategy and implementation during the drive home.

One of the “interesting” items in our Plus-Minus-Interesting-Recommendation review was the number of people familiar with Brainzooming through Twitter. For a brand that was a part-time effort until late last year, it’s evidence of the impact social media channels can have in building awareness and creating a perception of what a brand stands for in its initial stages. It certainly helps get an in person conversation started when someone has a sense that Brainzooming is focused on helping organizations be more successful through more innovative approaches to their strategy and its implementation.

This opportunity to create familiarity through social media underscores the importance of thinking about what you tweet or post, and its consistency with your brand – be it a personal or business one. Ample reason to ask before you hit enter, “What might a current or potential client read into or think about my brand based on this message?”

And while you’re at it, if you’re representing yourself directly in social media, ask the same question relative to your mother, spouse, children, current employer, future employer, and anyone else who’ll make a decision about you in the future.

Yes, it’s social media. Yes, it can be fun. But be sure you’re strategically tweeting, blogging, and sharing out there! People ARE listening. – 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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Here’s an idea that works well when you’re trying to uncover how to be more creative: force yourself (or your business brand) into completely new strategic situations.

The Brainzooming Group will be doing that this Thursday. Barrett Sydnor and I will be participating in the Freelance Exchange of Kansas City’s 2010 Portfolio Showcase, along with a talented group of creative talent – designers, writers, web developers, and artists. We’ll be there showcasing how Brainzooming helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement.

Barrett identified this opportunity, and while it may seem a stretch for Brainzooming to hang with the creative Freelance Exchange organization, the preparation alone has had a strategic and creative  impact. The opportunity to meet prospective Brainzooming clients in a very different situation (i.e., event marketing) forced positive refinements in our marketing message and creative delivery.

This event has made us think strategically beyond the one-page capabilities piece we’ve been using. In this venue, we need to provide visually eye-catching creative material to capture attention during a quick walk by our table. This new situation led to more case study-oriented pieces, such as those shown here.

Thinking about our strategic messaging from the perspective of the solutions and benefits Brainzooming provides, selecting images can be a challenge. Typically, our tangible output is a concise, actionable plan that’s tremendously valuable, but not all that visually intriguing. Changing our messaging focus to a potential client’s business challenges offered many more creative opportunities to place images with our message. It’s been much easier to depict business people challenged by too much data (without relevant insights), too few strategic options, or being left out of conversations about their brands in social media.

The point is this: presenting at the Freelance Exchange 2010 Portfolio Showcase was so different, it forced both a new look at our marketing and moved an important to-do higher up on our list. Whether you’re on your own or inside a company, look for brand experiments to force re-examining and innovatively approaching what you do from a new strategic perspective.

If you’re in Kansas City Thursday afternoon, April 22 from 3 to 6 p.m., stop by the Terrace on Grand (1520 Grand St., KCMO). We’d be eager to talk with you about how the proven Brainzooming process can help address your strategic challenges and catalyze innovative success for your organization! – 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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At the invitation of Brainzooming email subscriber Terry Kincheloe, I attended the second 2010 meeting of KairosAnalytics, a Kansas City-based web analytics strategy forum last Thursday. Tony Fortner, Consumer Experience Strategist at Sprint, presented on “Social Engagement Strategy.”

In the course of laying out his perspective, Tony covered culture, values, economic theory, World of Warcraft, strategy creation, the challenges of measuring social community business impacts, plus a few anecdotes on the internal politics at Sprint. Needless to say, it was an evening full of stimulating strategy ideas!

Rather than trying to play back notes from all of Tony’s presentation, here are a few takeaways:

  • So much of creating a vibrant online community strategy goes back to culture, values, and much of what we were taught as children: decency, helping one another, the golden rule, keeping your “hands clean”, loyalty, trust, etc.
  • Tony commented about feeling ethically bound to “say something” when a decision was being considered which would harm a customer. This creates a clear distinction for me. I’d place the emphasis on being bound to protect customers by actually stopping a harmful action. “Saying something” can be a self-serving exercise (esp. when you walk away in frustration), when what’s really needed is creating a positive result from the discussion.
  • For many (most?) companies, embracing the idea of a real community goes beyond innovation and is a radical strategy. If you’re trying to introduce a new, visionary strategy such as this inside a company, be sure to match up with someone who excels at the steps it will take to make it happen. And if implementation is your strong suit, go out of your way to align with someone who can communicate the strong vision necessary for the organization to make strategic changes necessary to be successful with a community.
  • Despite all the discussion on best practices, real learnings often come from the ends of the spectrum, not the middle. To understand where things are headed, look toward the people and companies pushing the limits.
  • Not every brand is going to win with a social community strategy. Some pre-existing business models simply aren’t going to fit with the innovation imperatives a community-based strategy implies. It’s clear some businesses are going to lose because of social networking-driven strategic change.

It was a great session. In July, I’m speaking to KAIROS on what could ostensibly be seen as the same topic Tony addressed – social media and strategy. Because there are so many ways to address the topic, it was reassuring to see our angles will be complementary, but different enough to have new things to say. – 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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This post has been too long in coming, dating to an outstanding presentation at the American Marketing Association Market Research Conference I chaired. In one of the fastest paced 90 minute presentations I’ve ever seen, Robert Adams, CEO and Founder of Infact Insight, delivered tremendous content (and lots of it) on “Supercharging Presentations – Charts Worth 1000 Words.” As I rapidly tried to live tweet, the session certainly lived up to its supercharged billing!

Here are sixteen creative ideas Robert Adams shared to help rethink how you’re creating and delivering presentations:

General Presentation Reminders

  • While public speaking is among the worst fears, communication skills are important factors in personal financial success. It’s a very worthwhile skill to force yourself to develop, even if it seems uncomfortable.
  • Great presentations take multiple talents, so you’ll likely need collaboration in preparing and delivering one. If you’re presenting regularly, make sure you have a creative team to reach out to for help.
  • Break presentations into three steps: preparation (doing upfront analysis and strategic thinking), creation (distilling the information you need to convey), and delivery (putting everything together and sharing it with the audience).
  • Want to get exposure to lots of powerful presentations? Go to the TED conference website and watch the great presenters showcased there.

Audience Analysis

  • Audience analysis is a fundamental early step in presentation prep. Think through the audience’s composition, personality, and relevant problem definition. Use mind mapping for this last element, starting an issue tree with the primary audience problem, and branching into its components.
  • Determine what it will take to get key audience members to act. What are their wants and needs? What are they for or against, and what’s required to move them effectively?
  • Storyboard your presentation before going to the computer. Sketch an outline in words (and ideally pictures), put it away, and return to review it later. This process takes time, but it pays off in a well-structured, holistic presentation.

Refining Presentation Look and Feel

  • Struggling to think through the right visuals for a presentation? Robert Adams recommends visiting Chart Chooser to help identify appropriate visuals based on your intended message.
  • Since your audience will likely have a mix of big picture and detail-oriented thinkers, look for ways to represent both elements in one graphic to accommodate each type of audience member. Consider how you can use pictures to present quantitative data.
  • Adams recommended using older fonts with historical information – an innovative take I’d never considered.
  • Force yourself to get a presentation to as few pages as possible. The effort to accomplish this will both benefit the presentation and force you to get all the relevant points into your head, avoiding the need to memorize it.

Delivering Presentations

  • Two of the most important moments in any successful presentation are the opening and close. Make sure you have strong, high impact content and staging. Take advantage of the roles primacy and recency play in what your audience will remember.
  • Be open and friendly when delivering a presentation. It’s important to smile, use deliberate gestures, and avoid unnecessary distractions (i.e., poor posture, putting your hands in your pockets, grooming yourself, etc.).
  • Always have a presentation parachute, just in case one or more things go wrong as you’re presenting.
  • When handling questions near the end of a presentation, be mindful of time. Don’t end on questions – instead move into a pre-planned wrap-up in your remaining moments.

Summary

  • Step outside of the typical presentation and be different in a positive and distinctive way. Invest the time in preparation and creation to be able to do different things with charts, graphs, and the ways you’ll ultimately deliver a well-rehearsed presentation.

You can check out additional strategic and creative tips on improving your presentations from the Brainzooming archives. And while you’re thinking about it, what’s working for you on the presentations you’re doing?  – Mike Brown

If you’d like to add an interactive, educationally-stimulating presentation on strategy, innovation, branding, social media or a variety of other topics to your event, Mike Brown is the answer.  Email us at brainzooming@gmail.com or call 816-509-5320 to learn how Mike can get your audience members Brainzooming!

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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