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In a recent TalentZoo.com post called “Thirsting for Originality,” author Danny Goldgeiger addressed the perceived similarity of a Super Bowl ad for Coca-Cola and a nine-year old ad from Israel for a chocolate milk product. Danny G. wrestles with the possibility that wide access to media makes it more, rather than less, likely similar ideas may show up multiple places.

One strategy he suggests to minimize this occurrence is for agencies to push for original ideas, and clients to ask for unexpected things in ads (although in this case, the commercial is unexpected and still looks like a complete rip-off). All the while, he acknowledges it’s still likely ideas will get reprocessed in creative minds and used again.

So what can you do to challenge this tendency to reuse ideas more aggressively? One way is for people involved in creative pursuits to actively manage the media they regularly and deeply consume.

In the original article’s comments, I referenced a Conan O’Brien interview someone had tweeted where he was asked about his TV viewing habits. O’Brien recounted watching anything other than comedy for inspiration. His point was if he invested his time focusing on other late night talk shows, he’d drift over time toward what they were doing. The result? Losing his originality and failing to explore the comedic style most suited to him.

His comments provide a valuable lesson in managing media consumption.

If you want to minimize your own internal rehashing of ideas, think about consciously controlling the media you consume within your category. When seeking out creative inputs, do it more heavily from other industries or market segments. One way I address this is by using the Twitter feed to point me in new directions all the time (vs. working the same strategy, innovation, and creativity news and blog beat over and over).

If you’re in a creative role and you’re able, don’t immerse yourself in a direct competitors’ ads. That may seem radical (especially for a guy who has done a lot of competitive intelligence), but it could provide the right distance to keep your perspective fresh. – 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 video is from “Social Media Will Neither Save Nor End the World as We Know It,” a presentation I did last Monday for Barrett Sydnor’s integrated marketing communications class. The class is made up primarily of young business professionals working on degrees at the University of Kansas.

My comments address a discussion on getting involved in social media when your employer isn’t supportive. One student managing a really comprehensive social media presence for a non-profit organization said he had more latitude because of his employer’s non-profit status.

That may be true. There are several other ways (personal branding, guerrilla marketing, and donating time to organizations) available though to deepen your social media understanding and be prepared when your employer is ready. – 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 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

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.

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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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