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3-DoorsSometimes there is only one door available as your point of entry for a problem or opportunity you’re facing. While your choices for how to approach things are severely limited, there isn’t a lot of strategic thinking required when deciding where and how to start.

Sometimes there is only one good door to open up a problem or opportunity, yet it SEEMS like there are five or six different doors you COULD try. Choices are typically beneficial for strategic thinking. Having several doors from which to pick when addressing a problem or opportunity, however, can slow progress as you do the strategic thinking and trial needed to identify the only door that will maximize success.

Other times, there are several doors that will work with varying levels of success to address a problem or opportunity. In these cases, you need to quickly accomplish the strategic thinking to best identify the door (or doors) that will be most productive and fruitful.

Still other times, as was the case working with a client the other day to plan a kickoff event, there are fifteen doors you could open to begin developing a strategic opportunity. Pretty much all fifteen doors will lead toward creating strategic impact. The big thing here is your willingness to embrace the strategic thinking and exploration that having so many possibilities entails.

Short story?

You’ll face various situations all the time that have different dynamics and variables leading to success. One of the best things you can do early on is hone your ability to identify how many doors a particular problem or opportunity offers that could lead to creating strategic impact. – 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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Seth Godin wrote a post last week that seemed to be the inverse of his book, “The Dip.”  (Affiliate Link)

PeakWhile “The Dip” was about the deep trough that can take place right before things take off (or don’t), this new blog post called “The Moderation Glitch” was about “The Peak.”

This Seth Godin post discussed the challenge of knowing when the marginal benefits from your strategy peak and additional incremental efforts will yield negative rates of incremental benefit.

As is frequently the case, the blog post was more about pointing out a problem than how to do something about it. In fact, Seth Godin offered little in the way of even knowing WHEN you hit the peak.

That’s where this piece comes in.

While we don’t have the answer to WHEN the peak happens for your brand, his article got me thinking about questions you should be asking to better understand your peak as early as possible so you can take appropriate strategic action.

6 Strategic Thinking Questions for “The Moderation Glitch”

So from the Brainzooming strategic thinking R&D Lab, here are six strategic thinking questions to aid in estimating the potential timing of the peak Seth Godin identifies and who might help anticipate its arrival.

Gauging the Peak’s Timing

  • How long do customers in your market typically stick with something before moving to the next new thing? Cut that number by 1/3 or by 1/2 – or maybe 3/4 to get a sense of when you should start looking for the peak.
  • How long do you need your current strategic direction to work before you’d be okay with it falling apart on you since you’ll be doing something better already?

Use the answers to these two strategic thinking questions to estimate the initial timing expectations for when the peak may appear.

Identifying Your Strategic Guides

  • Whose sense of fatigue with this strategy will be the best indicator that it’s “enough” – whether it’s enough in the opinion of your customers, your organization, or someone else?
  • Will your salespeople or Finance people first know that things aren’t as good as they have been – or will it be your market research people or someone else?
  • Who understands the leading indicators in your business?
  • Who in your organization isn’t so enamored with the current strategic direction that they are willing to step away from it before everyone else in order to start thinking about the NEXT strategic direction?

Based on answers to these strategic thinking questions, you can identify the canaries in YOUR coalmine – those individuals who will sense a problem before anyone else does.

It’s impossible in one article to figure out your peak moment (or peak period). In just a few moments, however, you can document a better sense of your timing and the canaries who will signal it’s too late WHEN it’s too late, as opposed to AFTER it is too late. – Mike Brown

 

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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 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.

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Maybe your strategic plan for the year is ready to go. Congratulations!

Maybe you are still working on your strategic plan. That’s completely understandable, and you’re still in pretty good shape to be ready for next year.

Maybe you are so focused on this year you have not even had a chance to begin thinking about a strategic plan for the upcoming year. You may want to skip ahead to the last paragraph!

Two Strategic Thinking Questions to Ask

Photo by; MMchen | Source: photocase.com

Photo by; MMchen | Source: photocase.com

No matter which category you are in with your strategic plan, here are two strategic thinking questions we highly recommend you ask and answer for this year as you look ahead to next year:

  • Where did the big surprises – both good and bad – come from in our organization this year?
  • Where did things happen this year in our organization where we lacked key insights ahead of time?

With answers to these two strategic thinking questions, you will have a helpful tweak to the strategic planning you have already done.

Alternatively, you will have additional ideas to help you focus on important areas to prioritize for the strategic planning you still need to do.

And by the way, if you need help getting an innovative strategic planning still completed before we get too far into next year, contact. We will get you Brainzooming! – Mike Brown

 

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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 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.

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Best-The-Rush-SaleIn the United States, Thursday night launches Black Friday – the opportunity for people to start their Christmas shopping early.

While this push for early Christmas shopping creates bizarre behaviors and demonstrates some very scary aspects of our culture, I do have to applaud the value of EARLY.

While early is a struggle for lots of people, it pays to start early because it has many benefits for successful performance.

Early:

  1. Provides extra time for strategic thinking before doing.
  2. Lets you DECIDE how much time to spend on strategic thinking vs. doing.
  3. Allows you to get the easy stuff out of the way first to build momentum.
  4. Maximizes your creative and development options since the passing of time typically removes options.
  5. Lets you reach out and involve other people so they have adequate time to perform successfully.
  6. Affords you time to explore many possibilities.
  7. Lets you explore surprises that appear along the way toward developing what you are developing.
  8. Allows you to make multiple, really juicy mistakes you can learn from and improve.
  9. Does not force you to skip steps – unless you want to – in order to finish by the deadline.
  10. Gives you time to screw around and chase dead ends as you go.
  11. Allows you extra time on the hard stuff so you can keep the easy stuff to do until later as a reward.
  12. Saves time at the end to finish early and tweak what you have done.

Yup, if you can start early, it is definitely good for successful performance.

But how about spending that early shopping time actually spending time (not money) giving thanks and saving your shopping for a regular time?

Happy Thanksgiving!  – Mike Brown

 

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I saved the October 2013 issue of Fast Company, its 10th annual innovation by design issue, from the recycle bin when my wife we de-cluttering for me. To justify saving the innovation by design issue from recycling oblivion, I combed through the brand profile articles in the innovation by design section to identify these fourteen strategic thinking questions as innovation starters for 2014.

Strategic-QuestionsYou can use these strategic thinking questions as inspiration for taking advantage of innovation and change, addressing change challenges, and shoring up your brand’s customer experience.

Creating Innovation and Change

  • After you’ve identified the absolutely essential elements of your brand, how can you start changing all the other elements right away?
  • What might be the place or way you start every new initiative so they are all solidly grounded in your brand?
  • How can you more aggressively prototype the huge change you need to start making right away?
  • What can you change that, if it didn’t work, could be completely restored to how it was before?
  • How about expecting everyone in your organization to create something new and improved EVERY day?

Addressing Change Challenges

  • Who in your organization is obsessed with problem solving, and what are you doing to keep them busy solving problems for clients?
  • If you’re trying to inject new thinking into an old organization, what is the senior leader in charge of innovation doing to morph corporate oldsters into new thinkers?
  • What ways can you track things people originally hated about the new big change that they now love – so you can use it to sell-in the NEXT big change?
  • How can you deliberately move the “How do we build it?” question until later in the innovation process?

Improving a Brand’s Customer Experience

  • What are the two next-most detailed questions you can explore about your brand’s customer experience?
  • How are you determining the “ooh and ahh” moments of your new ideas before and after you introduce them?
  • In what ways are you figuring out what you need to deliver to customer’s in the future beyond asking them – since they likely don’t know what they are going to need?
  • How are you improving your ability to prioritize and align disparate innovation processes in different parts of your organization so they maximize value for customers?
  • If you considered everything you have accomplished so far as “day one,” where could you be at the end of “day two”?  – Mike Brown

 

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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 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.

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I avoid politics here on Brainzooming, so this isn’t a political guest post. It’s a customer experience strategy lesson post from customer experience strategy and innovation expert Woody Bendle. Woody weighs in today on how to avoid your own high profile customer experience management issues based on learnings from the roll out of healthcare.gov. Here’s Woody!

 

woody-bendle3 Customer Experience Strategy Lessons in the Healthcare.gov Launch by Woody Bendle

Last month, one of the most highly anticipated recent website launches, www.healthcare.gov became one of the largest customer experience failures ever. Aside from the many technical design and architecture deficiencies, healthcare.gov provides three key Customer Experience Management (CEM) lessons.

  1. Do not underestimate peak demand
  2. Do not go live without stress-testing peak demand
  3. Have backup plans for worst case scenarios

Let’s dive in to these three lessons.

Lesson 1 – Do not underestimate peak demand!

HealthcaredotgovThis is a blinding flash of the obvious, but if you don’t understand your possible peak demand, really bad things can happen.  Like millions of really unhappy people wasting hours staring at a 404 error page, and all sorts of really bad press resulting in plummeting approval ratings.

Within minutes of go-live, healthcare.gov came to a screeching halt.  Why?  One contributing reason was a gross underestimation of how many people might visit the website its first day.

The thing is, figuring out a possible maximum peak demand for the ACA website isn’t hard – there are multiple scenarios for estimating it.

For an upper bound, we could naïvely assume every one of the roughly 240 million people in the US over the age of 18 could possibly visit the site on day one.

Since this is highly unlikely, what would be reasonable? How about the number of people without insurance now required to have insurance?

According to a September news release from the Census Bureau an estimated 48 million people in the US did not have health insurance in 2012 (including 6.6 million children under 18).  That translates to forty-one or forty-two million uninsured US adults legally required to obtain healthcare. It’s possible – although not probable – they could all decide to visit the website day one.

Another consideration is not everyone in the US has Internet access.  The Pew Center reports that 15% of US adults don’t use the internet, leaving approximately 35 million uninsured US adults with internet access who just might visit healthcare.gov on day one.  But, even this isn’t all that likely given America’s second favorite pastime (after baseball) is procrastination.

Cyber Monday, one of the busiest Internet traffic days annually,  provides another estimate of potential peak demand. According to Experian Hitwise, amazon.com had the highest Cyber Monday traffic volume in 2012 with nearly 39 million visits, walmart.com was second with nearly 19 million visits, and bestbuy.com followed with just over 9 million site visits. While it is unlikely the healthcare.gov launch would be met with amazon-type traffic its first day, it is nonetheless remotely possible.

How much demand peak demand should they have planned for with healthcare.gov on day one?  Apparently, way more than they did.

This leads us to our second key Customer Experience lesson.

Lesson 2 – Do not go live without stress-testing peak demand

From the Experian statistics, it is clearly possible to handle millions of site visitors on a single day.  Companies are already designing and supporting websites to handle massive amounts of daily site traffic. That healthcare.gov crashed immediately upon launch strongly indicates the team could not have performed stress testing anywhere near possible peak site demand levels.

The worst part though, according to comScore, is only about 2.5 million people actually visited healthcare.gov on its first day using PCs.  And, since roughly 20% of all Internet traffic comes via mobile devices, potentially only 3 million people in total attempted to visit healthcare.gov its first day.  If each person attempted to visit the site twice, due to technical hiccups, it might have received between 5 to 6 million visits its first day. This certainly is not a big traffic day by modern Internet standards. But, healthcare.gov still crashed – creating millions of frustrated customers and placing a dark cloud of skepticism over the entire ACA program.

This leads me to one final lesson from the launch.

Lesson 3 – Have backup plans for worst-case scenarios

If healthcare.gov were any other other website, hundreds of millions of people globally might not know what a colossal failure its launch was.  It isn’t just any other website; it is perhaps the most highly anticipated, highly visible (not to mention, legally mandated for millions of currently uninsured US adults) website launches in history!

Should you be responsible for such a website, there are two critical questions to ask and reliably answer:

  1. What’s the worst that could happen?
  2. What are we going to do if the worst thing actually happens?

Horrible customer experiences are very difficult to recover from successfully.  The growing widespread knowledge of horrible customer experiences, such as the healthcare.gov launch, makes these situations even more challenging!  I’m certain there are more than a few in Washington who agree right now.  But if you plan for worst-case scenarios, you can proactively attempt to minimize (and possibly even recover from) the damage done due to underestimating and under-testing peak user demand.

The Final Word? Hardly

In the immortal words of Dwight D. Eisenhower: “In preparing for battle [or the launch of the healthcare.gov marketplace] I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Woody Bendle

 

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“How strong is my organization’s social media strategy?”

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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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Customer experience strategy and innovation expert Woody Bendle is sharing his perspective on the links between corporate strategic planning and brand strategy today, including a great strategic brand planning tool to help identify branding opportunities and gaps your organization faces. Without delay, here’s Woody!

 

Brand Strategy – A Strategic Brand Planning Tool by Woody Bendle

Mike has published recent pieces on strategy and strategic planning that inspired me to reflect on the process and effectiveness of strategy, especially brand strategy. It fascinates me that strategy and strategic planning are often considered separate and different from brand strategy.  Since many executives don’t understand what a brand is, they don’t realize an organization’s brand should govern and be the basis for corporate strategy and planning.

Strategy and Brands

Strategy should effectively set an organization apart from competitors.  A good strategy (well executed) can make an entity appreciably unique and compellingly relevant to a meaningful proportion of consumers. This is precisely what a good brand does!  So why is brand strategy so often overlooked in corporate strategy or planning?

I believe there are three reasons:

  1. Lack of understanding
  2. Misperceptions – Corporate strategy and planning are considered to be for “left-brained numbers people’ and brand strategy (if an organization even does it) is for “right-brained marketing
  3. Complexity – Brands are complex, somewhat abstract, and don’t fit neatly into financial spreadsheets

While the concept of a brand can be difficult to get your head around, that complexity shouldn’t suggest branding be ignored. Let’s break down the concept to its component parts, tackling the basic definition first.

So what is a Brand?

Most of us can name dozens of brands, including our “favorite” brands.  We can describe brands and frequently make decisions because of them.  So, while brands play roles in our lives, defining a brand is where many get hung up.

Through studying how consumers and organizations develop, manage, think about and relate to brands, I’ve developed the following definition:

A Brand is something that provides and is both identity and meaning.  It is a continual interpretation that exists as a result of that which is conveyed by an entity through its communications, products and/or services, and that which is understood by those who interact with that entity’s communications, products and/or services.  

That seems pretty abstract and complex, I’ll admit.  Let’s simplify it to an organization’s brand being:

  • Who it is
  • What it stands for or represents
  • Why it exists
  • How it behaves, communicates, and/or operates
  • How it is, and how it wants to be seen and/or thought of

For those interacting with (i.e., purchasing, using, consuming) a brand, it is:

  • A commitment or promise by or from the brand itself
  • An aid for decision making
  • An intrinsic and extrinsic reflection of who they are
  • A statement about what they value and believe in
  • A tacit or explicit signal about how they see themselves and how they want to be seen by others

The next layer of complexity in branding is because brands are not completely within an organization’s control.  While companies or individuals create brands, they exist in a dynamic perceptual ecosystem, i.e. an intricate network of interactions between and among an array of constituents (as shown here).

Dyanmic-Brand-Ecosystem

Brands directly interact with and influence perceptions for a number of different constituents (the blue arrows).  These constituents influence and affect the brand through reciprocal relationships of varying strength.  Over time, the full power and impact of a brand results from a vast multitude of direct and indirect interactions within the ecosystem.

This creates two implications:

  1. Once a brand is launched, the originator no longer fully owns it.  It is shared by all who directly and / or indirectly interact with it.
  2. While the brand’s originator does not fully own the brand, it retains absolute responsibility today and in the future for how the brand is viewed.

So because brands are complex and are shaped by others outside your organization, managing it overall demands a well-articulated brand strategy!

A Strategic Brand Planning Tool

So with the definition addressed, let’s pull apart a brand and systematically examine all the different brand interactions.  This tool I developed helps me effectively do that:

Brand-Plng-Template

Step one is identifying the brand constituents populating the rows by answering:

  • Who are all the parties interacting with your brand?
  • Who has a say in your brand’s future?

After creating your own list of brand constituents systematically work through each column.

  • Column A – Think about how you would like each constituent group to describe your Brand.  What should your brand stand for with each of them?  How should it be known?  Note – this is an internal exercise since you have to answer and own how and what you want others to think about your brand.
  • Column B – How does each of these different groups actually think about, or describe your brand?  What are they saying about it to others?  Are you regarded positively by some and negatively by others? Surveys and social media listening are great sources for this.
  • Column C – This column pinpoints areas with differences between how you want your brand to be thought of and how it is currently regarded.  Some differences will be subtle and others could be rather large. Additionally, this column’s answer can be quantitative and/or qualitative.  
  • Column D – After identifying areas with meaningful perception differences, outline things your organization can or will do to close these perception or image gaps.

As you work through brand tool, some cells will be easier than others to complete. Only you can determine whether it is worth the effort to collect the information needed. After using this tool many times, I’m confident you will identify several things important to your brand’s future that warrant further discussion and attention.

Good (Company) to Great (Brand)

Body-TattooCompanies and organizations are a dime-a-dozen; many have very similar overarching goals and objectives.  If an organization has been around for any length of time, it is probably doing a number of things well.  But is it truly great?  Is it considered a Great Brand?

Great Brands are different; they are one-in-a-million!  Great Brands connect by providing a deeper sense of identity and meaning.  Great Brands wind up tattooed on peoples bodies (I’m betting the first brand that came to you right now was Harley Davidson)!

Great Brands don’t happen by accident! Great Brands are the result of great, well-executed brand strategies!

As you tune your strategic plans for next year, secure a seat at the strategic planning table for your brand management effort.  It just might earn your brand a prominent place on someone’s body! – Woody Bendle

 

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