I listened / watched / tweeted / chatted / multitasked my way through yesterday’s American Marketing Association “Social Media: Cracking the Code for Business Marketers” virtual event.

There was so much great content throughout (which is available on demand until May 2010), but one comment near the end hit home relative to recent conversations. James Clark of Room 214 wrapped up his social media ROI presentation with a slide referencing great work by his company’s “competitors.” As he put it, the subject area is moving and changing so quickly, you have to acknowledge and learn from competitors.

What a refreshing perspective.

In the transportation/ logistics industry, where I spent years, it’s nearly impossible for a company to possess every capability a customer might need in processing, storing, and moving their goods. With increased supply chain complexity, it’s become typical for your most vicious competitor in one business segment to be a valued customer, supplier, or strategic partner in another. If a transportation company can’t figure out how to work and compete at the same time with someone else, they’re destined to be relevant only for customers with very basic needs.

So it was a surprise recently, shortly after going full time with Brainzooming, when two people specifically said, “I think you’re a competitor of mine.”

How remarkable.

With so many companies needing to think more strategically and innovatively and then be able to implement their ideas, my concern isn’t competitors but simply sharing the value of what we can do to help potential clients be more strategic, innovative, and successful.

Can others address these potential clients’ same needs? Certainly. And as I regularly interact with other strategy and innovation providers in person or via social media channels, I hope to learn from them as well. At the same time, nearly everything I’ve produced on strategy, creativity, and innovation approaches is readily available here at no cost for others to use and learn from too.

So what’s the basis of competition for my two “competitors”?

How about fear? Or maybe, as someone said the other day when discussing this, it’s about being a dinosaur clinging to a business model destined to only fulfill very basic needs.

Sure, it’s early in the history I hope Brainzooming will have. We’ll definitely lose out on some opportunities where we have the best answer to help someone. But if we don’t think we really can best deliver on a potential client’s needs, we’ll reach out to folks like my “competitor” friends to see how we might work together. Or if it’s the best answer, we’ll point a potential client to someone who can provide better performance and value for them. I already did it earlier this week.

That’s our model, and we believe it’s the right one to genuinely serve and benefit the cool people we work with at Brainzooming.

Are you with us on this? - 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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Many Brainzooming readers are way out in front on social media strategy. Others are still checking it out. No matter which group you’re in, there’s a great free opportunity Thursday, February 25 to participate in “Social Media: Cracking the Code for Business Marketers.” This is a free virtual event sponsored by the American Marketing Association. You don’t have to be an AMA member to participate.

You can participate in the all or part of the daylong learning event via computer, with access to some of the most innovative thinkers and strategists on social media including Andy Sernovitz (CEO of Gas Pedal & The Social Media Business Council) and Julien Smith (Co-Author, along with Chris Brogan, of Trust Agents). The event includes a mix of 9 general and concurrent sessions, including special chat opportunities for AMA members.  There’s still time to register and expand your understanding on social media.

Look for another free virtual event from the AMA in June. Its focus is on market research and will be tied to the 2010 national AMA Marketing Research Conference September 26-29 in Atlanta. Just so you know, I was the volunteer chairperson for the 2009 conference and will be again for the 2010 event. Be on the watch for more details here on both the June and September events. - 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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I watched the @ThatKevinSmith and @SouthwestAir brouhaha erupt live on Twitter but didn’t write about it last week. Bunches of tweeters and bloggers hashing out who was right and wrong based on second, third, or five hundredth-hand information simply wasn’t interesting enough to warrant adding to the noise. Getting ready for a social media presentation tonight though, I’ve been thinking about service defects and service recovery in the world of social networking. I sought an analogy to help think strategically about how a company prepares for an angry customer who wants to be heard and starts tweeting incessantly: handling a hostage situation is very comparable. Rather than a person though, it’s a brand’s reputation being kidnapped by a customer threatening irreparable harm unless demands are met. With the one-to-many communication capabilities of social media, this type of threat has never been more credible. 

Here are five hostage negotiation principles and related implications for preparing to handle when your brand’s good name is being kidnapped:

1. Have a negotiating team ready.

This means more than a single person monitoring Twitter and handling responses. In hostage negotiations, the primary negotiator, who is ideally the sole contact with the hostage taker, is joined by a coach/commander in charge of the situation and personnel along with a secondary negotiator to help monitor, listen, and offer input.

Strategic Questions – Does your company have a pre-identified team and protocols for how it will work together in a social media-based service recovery effort? And how would you incorporate front-line employees when you’re trying to recover from a service failure playing out both at one of your company’s locations and online?

2. Gather as much solid information as possible right away.

Beyond having standard questions to run through, there’s added complexity in a social media-based service recovery effort. Suppose the customer issue IS taking place in-person. With social media monitoring removed from the scene, it may not even be possible from a customer’s messages to determine where the issue is occurring. This creates an interesting implication for enacting rapid service recovery.

Strategic Questions – If it’s clear the issue is taking place in the presence of front line employees, what steps will you take to identify the location and establish communication with them immediately? Since multi-person communication with the angry customer is almost a given, how will you ensure your multiple contacts are speaking with one message?

3. Connect on a personal level.

Social media throws a whole new wrinkle into this, especially when you want to move interaction with the customer to a private messaging stream. If it’s even available, the company may have outdated phone information on the customer, making direct contact challenging to establish. A corporate tweeter may have to try to get a brand kidnapper to “follow” the company so direct messaging can take place. And typically, the corporate tweeter is communicating under a corporate account without a personal avatar. It makes establishing a personal tone of, “I’m here to try and fix the situation,” difficult when the customer is receiving tweets with the corporate logo.

Strategic Questions – Are you following your customers on social media? Do you have multiple ways to reach out to customers? Do your company social media people have work-related, personal accounts they can use to reach out specifically in these cases?

4. Communicate openly and actively listen.

When you have face-to-face contact, listening, and the silence that goes along with it, is easy to convey. It’s a little tougher via phone. But in a medium geared toward short, back-and-forth messages, a pause associated with listening or contemplation comes across as being distracted or ignoring the other person.

Strategic Question – Beyond having plans for migrating service recovery conversations to private channels, are you actively training your social media response team in dealing with the dynamics of these new service recovery situations?

5. Show empathy.

One way hostage negotiators demonstrate empathy is by delivering on aspects of the demands that have been made. Granting small, detailed requests is done in real-life hostage situations to slow and drag them out, which is desirable. In a service recovery situation (especially one playing out in public), the last thing you want to do is extend it.  

Strategic Questions – Who is on your social media service response team? Have you included your best customer service people – the ones with strong understanding of what you can do to solve customer problems and are best at understanding issues from a customer’s point of view?

No matter what your company is doing in social media, you have to address this reality. Even if your company doesn’t want a proactive social media presence, there’s a greater chance every day your customers will be talking about your brand via social media. When they do, and the discussion gets negative and brand threatening, you better have thought about your strategy, with a plan for what you’ll do. - 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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As I mentioned the other day, I did a session locally on linking blogs to business strategy. One segment of the presentation addressed writing less for a blog by featuring guest authors and incorporating more videos.

After the presentation, Jill Tran came over to talk. She has her own interior design firm in Kansas City and is also a blogger. When I asked Jill to do a future guest blog for Brainzooming on creativity and interior design, she suggested we video something. And that’s what we did!

So here’s our first video guest blog, with Jill talking about the intersection of creativity and interior design. (You can click on the link if the video doesn’t appear.) Enjoy!

Now that Jill’s done it, our repertoire of ways for you to be featured on Brainzooming has grown. If you’d like to create a short video on strategy, innovation, or creativity, let me know. If you’d prefer to write a guest post, here’s some background information to get you started. – Mike Brown

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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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Last Thursday, I presented on linking blogs to business strategy at Kansas City’s Central Exchange. While discussing editing blog posts, one potential blogger asked about overcoming the problem of perfectionism when writing. I rather flippantly answered psychological help might be in order.

While trying to be funny, the answer wasn’t completely facetious. I love when things happen exactly on strategy. Through years of observation, however, I’ve come to realize very few mistakes mean even a “figurative” end to the world. Why drive yourself crazy trying to solve every little issue.

This realization began in earnest early in my career, when another person and I were working on a matrix comparing our company to major competitors. It was an arduous project, with many revisions and lots of eyes (including eyes senior to ours) reviewing various drafts. It was eventually published for several thousand sales and management people in the company.

Everything was fine until I received a call from someone who pointed out our company’s goal of “reducing customer exceptions” was mistakenly printed as “reducing customer expectations.” Figuring we were both fired, my co-worker and I went to our boss and informed her of the mistake.

We didn’t get fired. In fact, no one else ever came forward as even noticing the problem.

Despite lots of effort to avoid them, mistakes happen all the time in life. Not that I condone poor performance, but don’t waste your time seeking needless (and often self-defined, not customer-defined) perfection or losing your temper when mistakes do happen. You’ll be much more content and better off if you use a different strategy.

When mistakes occur around you, look hard for what’s actually better because of the mistake than what was originally planned.

In the case of the “lower customer expectations” gaffe, what was better was it made me a more careful editor. Does that mean I’m a perfectionist in writing. Not necessarily. It means I’ve learned and developed a whole repertoire of techniques for overcoming proofreading problems.

For you other perfectionists out there, what strategy do you employ to protect yourself from the tendency to be too correct?  - 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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Sunday night’s Super Bowl provided an incredible opportunity: getting a cool group of brand-savvy marketers from around the country together on Twitter to tweet about the best Super Bowl XLIV ads. As opposed to larger hashtag groups, the #BZBowl group was more intimate (with nearly 70 participants and no spammers). We had a lot of great IRL and online Brainzooming friends (both new and previous ones) navigating a few Twitter overloads and sharing more than 900 perspectives on Super Bowl ads throughout the game.

Update-wise, our recaps will unfold over the next few days. Barrett Sydnor is preparing a recap based on the SUCCESS formula spelled out in the book “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath. It will be interesting to see how this assessment compares to the popular opinion and buzz-oriented evaluations.

For me, the best Super Bowl ad was only 15 seconds, took just 30 minutes to shoot days before the game, and didn’t cost the advertiser anything to air (in fact, the biggest cost was likely the private jets to get its stars to the shoot). Yes, the David Letterman promo co-starring Oprah Winfrey and Jay Leno was the standout ad in this year’s Super Bowl.

When you think through the “Made to Stick” criteria, the promo fully used 5 of the 6 proposed keys to memorability. It was:

  • Simple (little dialogue, one set, no computer graphics)
  • Unexpected (who’d have thought you’d get Leno and Letterman on the same set after the past month)
  • Credible (if Jay and Oprah will hang with Dave, why wouldn’t you?)
  • Emotional (with little dialogue, it was still one of the funniest ads as David Letterman imitated Jay Leno to his face)
  • Story-based (who doesn’t know the backstory so as to quickly put the setting into context)

The only key it didn’t use was Concrete, and that’s only because it didn’t scream, “Watch the Late Show!”

Just goes to show that a creative idea, some strategic risk taking (on multiple fronts), and implementing the SUCCESS formula can more than compensate for huge production budgets when it comes to memorability.

A few other quick impressions:

  • Certain “creative” (or maybe not so creative) themes emerged among ads (underwear, little people, surprise tackling, classical music). Many were easy to spot because of odd CBS scheduling which placed similar commercials back-to-back during certain breaks.
  • Super Bowl Advertisers (or their agencies) aren’t getting that traditional and social media should work together for maximum effectiveness. Pepsi went all social and suffered from no call-outs in the game. Few Super Bowl TV ads included social media angles (only Vizio had really blatant social media overtones), with the exception of a few, “go to the website to see more” mentions (Focus on the Family , GoDaddy, Doritos, HomeAway).
  • The Doritos open competition for ads seemed to work well for the brand, with some relatively strong creative in what many online felt was a lackluster Super Bowl advertising year.
  • For all the pre-game handwringing, the Focus on the Family ad was much ado about nothing. The ad featuring Tim Tebow and his mother was very weak, irrespective of how you feel about the intended message.
  • The much-anticipated Google ad was interesting and distracting at the same time. It demanded attention to follow the integrated, text-based storyline in one pass (I admit it – it took me two viewings due to a poor attention span). The popular view is the Google ad signals its fear of Bing. My game time tweet was that in my previous job, I’d always tried to sell our e-commerce team on simplicity in web design. The rationale was that Amazon and Google didn’t have to invest dollars to get people to understand how to use them. So…did Google really need to run the ad?
  • Coca-Cola went for little vignettes, including one built entirely around the Simpsons. These ads felt like they were solidly facing the past. Saw a mix of reviews on these – USA Today had Sleepwalker at number 5, but the Simpsons spot at number 30 among all Super Bowl ads.
  • There was nearly universal disdain, at least among the #BZBowl crew, for GoDaddy. My personal opinion is that Danica Patrick’s willingness to be in these BS ads signals how really bad the motorsports sponsorship market is. I feel sorry for very few athletes, but these ads continually put her into situations she should not have to be associated with.

As I write this very early Monday morning (after a post-game visit to the emergency vet with a sick cat), USA Today is reporting (by a really obnoxious guy BTW) the top ads as ones from early in the game:

  • Betty White (and Abe Vigoda) playing football for Snickers
  • The Doritos ad where the dog put its collar on its owner
  • The Bud Light ad with the house made out of full Bud Light cans

My sense from the chat on #BZBowl would be agreement with Snickers, but support for other Doritos ads as among the best. Forbes.com lists one of the E*Trade baby ads as number 1. I was less sold on the babies this year, but the campaign did yield a great new term, “Milkaholic.” Its other top 3 were Doritos (dog collar) and Denny’s (which should have come up with a special football promo name for its expensively-touted Grand Slam Breakfast).

As I mentioned, we’ll be updating our Brainzooming Super Bowl Analysis the next several days, sharing a strategic and innovation perspective on the Super Bowl marketing efforts. - 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 #BZBowl - Sponsored by Brainzooming

Do you spend more time thinking about Marketing than Manning?

More interested in Bud than Bowl?

Think the Super Bowl is really a bunch of cool ads interrupted by guys in padding hitting each other?

Then you’re in the right place for live and post-game analysis of Super Bowl XLIV  ads and social media from a group of seasoned marketing, branding, and social media observers.

How can you participate?

  • Check below for a live feed of all the tweets using our #BZBowl hashtag.
  • Log on to Twitter and tweet your observations about the ads. Just be sure to include #BZBowl in your tweet so it shows up below. For even broader visibility for your tweet, also include #SuperBowlAds in your tweet so those following that hashtag will see what you’re saying on #BZBowl.
  • During and after the game, we’ll provide updated commentary, ratings of ads using the SUCCESS criteria from “Made to Stick,” and videos of the best and worst Super Bowl advertisements. You can grab your own expected ad list and score sheet below.

Thanks for playing! To see a list of expected Tweeters and links to other resources, you can visit our main #BZBowl page too.

And if you’re a first time visitor to Brainzooming, learn more about what we do to catalyze innovative success!

View more presentations from 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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