Strategy | The Brainzooming Group - Part 4 – page 4
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What can you expect from a strategic planning process?

That question was the topic of several recent conversations.

As I explained it, our objective when leading a strategic planning process is to make sure the result is an innovative, implementable strategy.

9 Things to Deliver in a Strategic Planning Process

That specific phrase (an innovative, implementable strategy) is very important to a strategic planning process. It creates a definition and set of expectations around what the process we’re facilitating needs to deliver.

With innovative, we look to deliver ideas that:

  • Are better than current strategies
  • Are differentiated relative to competitors
  • Create exceptional benefits and value for important audiences

In terms of implementable, the strategy needs to:

And if it’s a solid strategy, it:

These specifics help determine what we need to prioritize within any strategic planning process:

As you look ahead toward strategic planning, think about where you legitimately need to concentrate your efforts. Where do you need to focus to create an innovative, implementable strategy for your organization’s success? – Mike Brown

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An April story in Fortune suggests, in so many words, that TED Talks are enough to break open the flow of ideas in your organization. It detailed how TED and its CEO, Chris Anderson, are trying to aggressively penetrate the corporate event strategy and production market. Targeting Fortune 500 companies for revenue, TED is pitching its event strategy production capabilities (with full conferences and Salon events), popular TED Talks speakers and TED fellows, speaking workshops, and even space at its headquarters to immerse in the TED vibe.

Rubbing elbows with the TED brand is pricey. The article reports the cost of the TED crew’s producing a one-day conference for your organization starts at $1.5 million. That involves a healthy premium for the TED brand and the halo from its well-known production look and feel.

An Event Strategy to Tell Your Stories and Ideas

While the multi-million-dollar investment takes many organizations out of the TED Talks event strategy market, the need for high-impact corporate events exists in many companies. Some get it right, too many don’t. That is why too many conferences with the potential for game-changing impact fizzle: they fail to embrace an event strategy incorporating the important basics that TED delivers in its conferences.

If you are looking to an event strategy that creates impact but TED is not the answer, try these practices TED masters. You can emulate all of them to improve your internal meetings:

1. Pick a Theme and Use It for All It’s Worth

TED events feature intriguing themes that set the tone for the featured presentations. You can use a theme to help your audience understand the presenters and the overarching message you want them to take back to their daily work. The easy part is placing a theme on slides, lanyards, and posters at the venue. The challenging, and much more important aspect, is developing the right theme and using it to drive EVERYTHING you do with the conference.

Here are several suggestions for exploring the right theme:

  • Don’t delay selecting a theme until late in the conference preparation. Invest time early to develop the theme so it drives all your event planning and execution.
  • Create a theme that ties both previous and future activities within your organization. It should feel as if it springs from your culture, but also challenge and inspire your team to future successes.
  • Strategically tie everything to the theme leading up to, during, and after the event. Repeatedly communicate it from the stage, using it to link the speakers and the messages they share. Doing this elevates a theme from a few spiffy words to a powerful communication tool that helps instill and align strategy.

Remember: a great meeting theme will work hard to align your activities and reinforce your messages during the meeting and afterward.

2. Feature People with Untold Stories

The easy answer for any organization’s conference is putting all the executives on stage, whether they are dynamic presenters or duds. That’s not the TED approach. To paraphrase its direction, TED looks for stories that haven’t been told and ideas worth sharing. That’s a very different direction than essentially turning the company organization chart into a conference agenda.

Look for untold stories and shareable ideas inside and outside the company that effectively convey the theme. Reach into your organization for stories of successes, learnings, innovations, and personal accomplishments. Not every story has to be fact-driven. Emotion is a major component of TED events. An audience will remember personal stories carrying messages of struggle, hope, and overcoming challenges far longer than a senior executive’s PowerPoint full of business statistics!

Sharing the stage with new presenters featuring relevant, albeit different types of stories, introduces risks. You will be putting untested people on the stage. Lower this risk by working with the presenters to hone their stories and delivery. Identify what they want to share, and find ways to help them streamline messages, linking ideas to the theme. Simplify talking points, eliminate text-based PowerPoint in favor of compelling images, inject emotion, and help them practice many times to gain comfort and familiarity with presenting. You will find that the right speakers with strong stories will carry the day, no matter their organizational titles.

3. Develop a Format and Flow that Works for Your People

TED employs a couple of standard talks, the longest of which is eighteen minutes. While that strategy is great for later packaging thousands of talks as videos, it creates a monotonous in-person experience. The take-away from TED is to plan for brief, focused talks compared to typical corporate meeting presentations. Whether it’s ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes, select shorter speaking times, ditch the podium (as TED does), and give speakers some flexibility to use a format that showcases individual speaking talents.

While you may want to start the conference with the CEO delivering his or her message, we suggest caution. The best conference flows mimic frequently-used patterns in concerts, comedy routines, and firework shows: start with the second strongest element you have and end with the strongest one. In between, arrange other elements to maximize moments of excitement, drama, surprise, and quiet. Within this framework, look for the best places to showcase senior executives delivering messages tied to the theme.

TED events do a stellar job in staging and production. Never underestimate how these variables shore up speakers that might not be as strong as you would like. Even if your meeting budget falls FAR short of the $1.5 million TED price tag, using a solid outside production company is generally money well spent. The right production team will bring experience across conferences along with lighting, sound, and other resources to maximize your event’s impact.

Developing Your Event Strategy for Impact!

Obviously, this doesn’t cover everything you need to know to create a TED-like event. It may surprise you (or maybe not), that strategic creative production for corporate events is something The Brainzooming Group regularly does for clients.

If you are facing this type of challenge, contact us, and let’s chat about ideas. We love see an organization chart a new course and succeed dramatically with a breakthrough event! 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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I delivered a keynote on the importance of collaborative internal branding during the SMC3 2017 Connections conference.

The talk prompted several conversations about the distinctions between branding strategy and advertising. I surprised several attendees by discussing branding strategy as a fundamental element of business strategy for any organization.

When first visiting a branding agency years ago, I didn’t understand the distinction between what it and an advertising agency would do. They kept talking about the design of our facilities and employee behaviors, making me wonder why we were there. Those topics seemed far removed from what our marketing team could effectively improve and align in our company. My boss, the CMO, insisted we needed to take the lead on these important people and service elements of our operationally-driven business.

via Shutterstock

Over time, it became clear that we needed to lead the way because only the marketing team would approach these areas strategically. It was also clear that branding agency thought about them strategically while our advertising agency didn’t. That experience solidified for me why branding and advertising agencies were typically two different organizations.

3 Big Differences between Branding Strategy and Advertising

Thinking about the questions attendees asked after my talk and a career of working with some great branding people, here are several distinctions between branding strategy and advertising:

  • Branding relates to business strategy. Advertising relates to marketing strategy.
  • Branding determines the essentials of the customer experience and designs it. Advertising focuses on depicting the marketable aspects of the customer experience, communicating them to prospects and reinforcing them with current customers.
  • Branding incorporates communications plus people, product, and physical evidence. Advertising focuses on communications and promotional activities.

I could expand the comparisons, but the role branding plays in strategy, customer experience, and addressing a breadth of business variables sets up a solid distinction between branding strategy and advertising.  – Mike Brown

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I’ll admit it: my views on innovation strategy have been dramatically shaped by working in a Fortune 500 corporation. The size and scale of opportunities you pursue, even in a company that was not always all that innovative, oriented me to think a big team and significant dollars are vital for real innovation.

Given that, moving to an entrepreneurial environment in 2009 was new territory when it came to learning innovation strategy lessons.

Without a large team and no outside funding, our entrepreneurial innovation strategy involves imagining an idea, starting on it (while also trying to sell and operate the business), and accepting most things will never develop as quickly or completely as in a big corporation.

In the last twenty months, however, it feels more as if what we are doing is truly classically innovative. The thing is, what we’ve done HAS always been about innovating. Maybe it has just taken a few years to get to where some earlier innovations are successful and dependable. Now, we have a base from which to more aggressively implement our innovation strategy.

5 Innovation Strategy Lessons Learned as an Entrepreneur

Reviewing this most recent development phase for The Brainzooming Group, here are five innovation strategy lessons I’ve personally learned:

#1. Start down a path while working on redefining it

We haven’t wavered from the initial reason for starting The Brainzooming Group: to take our learnings on simplifying, collaboratively approaching, and speeding up strategic planning to smart organizations wanting to conduct business differently. We have extended our reach into industries, situations, and dimensions we hadn’t imagined. Even though we still only sell professional services, training workshops, and speaking, staying true to the original direction facilitated creating enough content to be able to now quickly move into other areas with tremendous ease and speed.

#2. Once there is an early positive indicator, go all out as fast as you can

Without content marketing, I would not have had the guts to become an entrepreneur. Cold calling wasn’t my strong suit. Sharing how to improve business strategies and processes was. The positive reaction to Brainzooming content on strategy, branding, and innovation even before the name Brainzooming existed revealed this opportunity. Even though we have enough content to slow our new content creation, we are now developing longer-form eBooks at an unprecedented rate for us in the past twenty months.

#3. Start more things than you can finish in the time you would like to finish them

At one point, I felt compelled to finish most things I started. Now, when it comes to generating new ideas and approaches, I am quite comfortable doing something 25% of the way if that portion can yield bits and pieces that fit into something else that will be more complete. Accepting this is key to launching as many initiatives as we need to launch. I’ve found that if we are strategic, the pieces fit or make sense later at a high rate.

#4. If someone has an intriguing idea, look for how to spin it

We’re developing an idea right now for a branding and social content-related offering. It targets market segments we don’t currently serve with a delivery model we don’t currently use. A year ago, we had no activities going in this direction. The original idea came during a visit to Mess Wright in Dallas. Mess shared how she was using Brainzooming tools in an entrepreneurial setting. A couple of twists and turns later, and we have an entirely new offering that I’m crunching to get going during 2017 (2018 at the latest).

#5. You can only starve yourself from outside interests for so long (but I’m not sure how long that is yet)

Near the start of 2016, major pieces were coming into place to grow The Brainzooming Group more aggressively. Several, however, didn’t pan out when expected. In the interim, I decided to kill myself to make as much activity as possible happen as fast as I could. That means many sacrifices. There hasn’t been much sleep or fun outside of business since then. We’re progressing on other pieces we need (and got a headwind from other unexpected events), but the period of killing myself hasn’t ended. My energy has faltered at times. Through God’s grace, I think we’ll make it through to the other side of this intense period.

The Big Innovation Strategy Lesson

So, yeah, I must admit not every innovation strategy takes a big team and lots of dollars. In the startup world, innovation CAN be about determination, pushing ahead whenever and however you are able, and staying determined even when you would rather sleep. – Mike Brown

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One of our clients recently conducted their own internal interviews to get a sense of what their employees thought about their current situation, future opportunities, and persistent challenges as an input into the strategic planning process. During the interviews, a standard theme from the participants was to share their comments EXACTLY as they stated them. Our client made the commitment to do so.

While that commitment translated into capturing and typing up exacting notes with their specific words, conveying what participants want to communicate during the strategic planning process is a little more complicated than that.

6 Keys for Conveying What Participants Want to Communicate

via ShutterStock

When it comes to conveying exactly what participants wants to communicate, there are multiple steps involved. These are some of the things we suggested to honor the team’s request for faithfully reporting their comments:

  1. Ask questions that allow individuals to express their own thinking instead of having to conform their language to how the strategic planner describes things.
  2. Make a concerted effort to capture the exact language participants used if they are not directly capturing their own language.
  3. If there is a gap between what they say and what they mean, don’t hesitate to fill in the white space so the final reporting is as representative as possible of their big messages.
  4. Do not hesitate to insert your own comments to focus reader attention on the most important messages.
  5. Develop a vocabulary list of common language the organization uses, and default to words and phrases from the list as you recap the interviews and work on subsequent deliverables.
  6. Identify themes among individual interviews and responses, featuring the most descriptive language people used to represent the significant issues the organization faces.

As with a lot of things in business and life, being faithful to what participants want to communicate during a strategic planning process can involve extra steps to adjust things and make sure it happens. We’ve taken these types of steps for years and have had clients consistently say, “That’s exactly what we meant, except you said it even better!” – Mike Brown

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A common fear about selecting a single target market or audience persona is that focusing on one market when making branding strategy decisions is risky. The fear is target marketing will cause a brand to miss stellar growth opportunities coming from other markets or audiences. That rationale suggests the best course to capitalize on a brand’s full market potential is to avoid targeting any markets or audiences and instead do what you do with every market or audience in mind.

I can understand why a brand owner may think that. Unless you pick a market or audience that is so narrow and a position so extreme that it is off-putting to everyone not targeted, however, it’s not likely to play out that way.

Why Target Marketing Won’t Cripple Your Branding Strategy

Here’s an example of how target marketing helps your branding strategy:

From the outside, one suspects Starbucks targets only a coffee drinking audience. Maybe there are multiple targets, but they all revolve around coffee drinkers. I haven’t had a cup of coffee since I was three years old, so I am clearly not in a Starbucks target market.

Since Starbucks doesn’t offer Diet Dr. Pepper (my preferred caffeine delivery vehicle), it is foregoing revenue from me and others not buying soft drinks. Yet even though I’m not a coffee drinker, that doesn’t mean, I am not a Starbucks customer. When traveling, I seek out the Starbucks brand for food. It’s a known brand, and its standard food items are nearly as ubiquitous as its retail presences. They have water, which I’m also buying when I travel. In the grand scheme of things, I’m guessing Starbucks doesn’t lose tremendous growth opportunities by not selling soft drinks since doing so would be off-brand.

Working with this example, here’s an alternative way to think about targeting markets and personas: Consider your strategic targeting moves as making strategic prioritization decisions for your brand.

Starbucks would be foolish to prioritize anything I personally wanted from the brand (get rid of the coffee smell, add soft drinks, have a food-only payment line to speed things up) since my preferences are way outside its target market. By prioritizing product development, brand experience, innovation, and everything else around its target markets, Starbucks maintains the strength of its brand. It is in a much better position to grow its presence thanks to picking a target market and prioritizing what it does based on choices the target audience expects and will reward.

If you have hesitated embracing a more focused marketing and messaging strategy focused around a target market, now is the time to get over it! – Mike Brown

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Someone downloaded a free Brainzooming strategy eBook, noting his biggest strategy challenge is “how to do a strategic planning process when you are new.” That question relates to something we do all the time: walk into a new client in an unfamiliar industry to design and facilitate a strategic planning process.

While leading strategy development in a new company poses challenges (including needing to learn a tremendous amount as you go), it has a comparable number of advantages (Including not laboring under preconceived ideas about how the organization does things).

via Shutterstock

In that type of situation, we recommend using strong strategic thinking questions and frameworks to quickly understand the situation, the players, and the opportunities. This is vital (from our experience) for ensuring your newness yields more advantages than challenges.

Additionally, here are four areas we recommend exploring right away (and 12 resources to support your work):

Identify what has been done previously

Secure copies of previous plans and strategy documents, and don’t settle for the first things people offer you. Keep digging via different angles and types of requests. What you see as strategic may not be what others think is strategic. Ask about what has and has not worked during previous strategic planning initiatives. You want to be sure to find out what things most often lead to successful implementation. Finally, as you compile strategy documents, review them thoroughly to glean all the value they provide.

Getting to What Is Strategic

Determine the important players

Review the organization chart and identify the major players from a formal standpoint. That’s your first look. Then start probing informally for who the important players will be in strategic planning. That’s not to say the people on the org chart AREN’T important. There are like people outside the top-level organization charts with ideas, insights, pieces of the puzzle, and important answers for getting you up to speed very quickly.

Tracking Down the Expertise You Need

What’s it like?

Go hard and fast to understand the company, customers, industry, and competitors, along with all the other things important for the early internal and external fact base supporting the strategic planning process. These are the basics where you must quickly develop a working knowledge and a good command of the facts. As a new strategic planner, you can quickly gain advantage by bringing intriguing comparisons to the table. Finding analogous situations to help create new perspectives helps you stay ahead of the game in introducing new thinking. The more pertinent analogies you can employ, the more you showcase how fresh perspectives are bringing value to the strategic planning process.

Making Great Comparisons

What’s ahead?

It would not be a surprise if many (most?) of the people you will reach out to for strategic planning participation will be focused on day-to-day business activities. While they may want to look toward the future, near-term responsibilities can routinely derail those aspirations. As the strategic planning person, you are in a prime position to focus on what is coming – whether expected or unexpected. Be on the lookout for individuals who spend considerable time thinking about trends, future developments, and their implications.

Looking Further Out from Here

That may not be everything, but it’s a solid start to run a strategic planning process as if you have years of experience where you are! – 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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