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I long ago learned an important lesson about corporate branding decisions: no matter how many intriguing, mentally-engaging brand strategy conversations you have among senior executives, those conversations NEVER lead to final decisions. No, corporate branding decisions are only resolved when someone needs a new business card, trade show booth, brochure, or website.

When you have to physically display a logo or depict how two brands relate to each other when they are placed together? THAT is when executives finally make corporate branding decisions.

A conversation with an upcoming client brought this lesson to mind. They asked whether they should include the organization’s logo in the official email signature.

Addressing that question led to an extended conversation about reasons why they should or should not include the logo. During the conversation, we also tackled what the organization’s multi-part name is supposed to mean (because no one seems to know) and why its logo looks like something it isn’t. We also touched on whether one of their product names actually has much greater brand equity than the overall organization (which changed its name to an acronym several years ago).

See what I mean?

A question about the email signature quickly got us (well, at least me), questioning their whole naming and identity strategy.

If you’re struggling with corporate branding decisions no one is moving forward to resolve, maybe it’s time to design new business cards. Getting physical like that will prompt the decisions you need to make to clarify your brand strategy and move into action.  – Mike Brown

5 Ways to Start Implementing Faster and Better!

In the new Brainzooming strategy eBook 321 GO!, we share common situations standing in the way of successfully implementing your most important strategies. You will learn effective, proven ways to move your implementation plan forward with greater speed and success. You’ll learn ways to help your team:

  • Move forward even amid uncertainty
  • Take on leadership and responsibility for decisions
  • Efficiently move from information gathering to action
  • Focusing on important activities leading to results

Today is the day to download your copy of 321 GO!

Download Your FREE eBook! 321 GO! 5 Ways to Implement Faster and Better!



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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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Talking with a client team about facilitating its strategic planning process, we discussed why completed strategic plans sit on shelves.

There are multiple reasons for this unfortunate situation.

I think an important reason is when a strategic planning process focuses on the wrong issues. It happens so often: people launch into strategic planning and begin to talk and think differently than during daily business activities. They also assume the things they work on every day must not be part of the strategic planning process.

Put all those things together, and if left unchecked, you wind up with a strategic plan disconnected from the organization’s daily activities and reading like a document foreign to the organization.

A Strategic Planning Process Focused on the Wrong Issues

I shared a story from my corporate days to demonstrate how easily strategic planning gets disconnected from what matters.

We spent 3/4 of a day working on the strategic plan for a cross-border transportation service. We were going through all the typical strategic planning exercises. We worked with the brand manager to complete and review a SWOT analysis, identified (and prioritized) important opportunities, and spelled out tactics to implement the opportunities.

Late in the afternoon, the brand manager said the service was in violation of certain governmental regulations. The remedy to address the violation was not immediately clear. If the brand team could not figure out what to do quickly, the government was threatening to shut down the service within a few weeks.

I about fell to the ground.

Heck, maybe I did fall to the ground. There would be precedent for it.

I asked what would have made the team think we should spend most of the day working on next year’s planning when the biggest issue facing the service RIGHT NOW could halt the revenue stream within a month.

The problem?

The brand manager interpreted “strategic” as “long-term.” The catastrophe that could shut down the service was not long-term. Since it was immediate, he didn’t think the impending shut down was relevant for strategic planning.

Uh, WRONG!

Ever since then, we employ a series of questions to ferret out incredibly strategic make-or-break issues a client does not, for some reason, think are strategic.

Are you planning for your biggest day-to-day issues?

If your organization’s plans sit on the shelf, contact us, and let’s talk about how we attack that issue from multiple fronts so strategic planning creates strategic impact and results for you! – Mike Brown

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Create the Vision to Align and Engage Your Team!

Big strategy statements shaping your organization needn’t be complicated. They should use simple, understandable, and straightforward language to invite and excite your team to be part of the vision.

Our free “Big Strategy Statements” eBook lays out an approach to collaboratively develop smart, strategic directions that improve results!


Download Your FREE eBook! Big Strategy Statements - 3 Steps to Collaborative Strategy



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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We have released a host of eBooks on strategic planning exercises and ideas to increase collaboration, creative thinking, alignment, and successful implementation. In case you missed any Brainzooming strategy planning eBooks, here are seven to jump start your strategic planning exercises and better engage your team in shaping your organization’s direction.

You can download your copies by clicking on the titles or the covers of the eBooks below.

Results – Creating Strategic Impact (Download)

The Results eBook makes our case for collaborative strategy planning among your organization’s employees (and even, in many cases, your customers). That doesn’t mean you turn over strategy setting. It does mean that you ask all your important audiences for their perspectives to meaningfully shape the strategy you determine.

The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions (Download)

This is our biggest collection ever of strategic thinking questions to move strategy planning ahead in finding the best strategic direction. The questions also address branding, marketing, innovation, creativity, and implementation.

Reimagining the SWOT Analysis (Download)

The SWOT analysis is the workhorse of strategic planning exercises. That creates two options: always use it as originally designed while it calcifies, or shake it up and realize new value from adapting the SWOT analysis in a way that best suits your organization.

Big Strategy Statements – A Collaborative Way to Shape Your Strategic Directio (Download)

If your organization has a big strategy statement (vision, mission, etc.), but didn’t involve your employees in helping to shape it, you have missed a HUGE opportunity. These strategic planning exercises provide a way to engage employees in the direction you will depend on them to create.

11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning (Download)

If you are in charge of strategic planning exercises in your organization, you can take the same old approaches and perpetuate miserably boring and mind-numbing strategy planning meetings. Alternatively, you can use the fun ideas in this eBook to create an engaging strategy planning experience that motivates great thinking and creates strategy fans!

10 Questions for Successfully Launching New Programs (Download)

As you assemble a team for implementation, you want to start down the right path. The strategic thinking questions here provide teams a way to shape implementation through focus and inclusiveness.

321 GO! 5 Ways to Start Implementing Faster and Better (Download)

Not all implementation teams step up to the opportunity to move ahead. These five situations and corresponding remedies help senior leaders and initiative point people move teams forward if they hesitate.

4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times (Download)

Things are crazy right now. There is a lot of uncertainty globally, and has a way of paralyzing organizations. Even if your implementation path is not completely clear, these four strategies will help you move forward in a smart way.  – Mike Brown

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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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While we are whole-hearted proponents of fun strategic planning activities, that doesn’t mean every strategic planning workshop we design and facilitate has exactly the same type of fun. In fact, in some situations, we never get out the fun squeeze toys.

And we all know that toys are a universal signal that a strategy workshop is supposed to be fun.

Not really; just kidding.

There is a lot more to making a strategy workshop fun so that people want to participate the first time and in subsequent years. We detail all those ideas in 11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.

4 Times to Avoid Toys during Fun Strategic Planning Activities

But back to strategy workshops and skipping the toys – here are four situations where we do not rush to put out toys:

1. The dynamic with the group doesn’t feel right

Sometimes, it is obvious that the participants are not jelling and funny is not the best thing to get them comfortable with each other.

2. It’s too cramped and cluttered in the room

We want a lot of square feet per person for a strategy workshop. Often, we wind up in a tiny room because it’s convenient, and everyone is on top of one another. In those situations, the last thing we need is to add to the clutter with toys.

3. The people may kill each other

Toys are meant to be fun. They are not meant to be weapons. When the strategy workshop participants are a little TOO aggressive with one another, someone could put an eye out by zinging a squeeze ball at a co-worker. If people can’t play nicely, NO TOYS.

4. We’re told “no funny stuff”

We have talked about situations where a client came to us before the workshop to say there was to be no funny stuff. In those cases, we don’t go to the toys – at least not right away!

Other than those four times

Beyond those four times, we’re all about the toys. And everything else that REALLY makes strategic planning a mentally stimulating experience! – Mike Brown

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fun-ideas-strategic-planningLooking for Ideas to Make Strategy Planning More Fun?

Yes, developing strategy can be fun . . . if you know the right ways to liven it up while still developing solid strategies! If you’re intrigued by the possibilities, download our FREE eBook, “11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.”


Download Your FREE eBook! 11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning

 

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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Every organization faces challenging, completely unexpected situations. It could be a surprise competitive move, an unanticipated external event, or a new type of internal crisis demanding attention. Some organizations stumble in these situations. Others deal with curves thrown their way seamlessly, functioning as if nothing out of the ordinary happened.

Irrespective of why it wasn’t seen coming, when surprise decision making situations develop, you need a way to move forward in a strategic, orderly, and effective manner. Preparing mini-plans as part of your strategic planning activities is a way to do this. They help improve your readiness to act when the unexpected happens.

With the immediacy and flexibility imperative for success in challenging situations, brief plans tied to specific trigger events or event-based outcomes provide the ability to make decisions almost as a football team builds and executes a game plan. While a football team has an expectation of running certain plays to start a game or in specific situations, the team has command of a larger number of plays (or mini-plans). These can be arranged and executed in multiple combinations based on how the current set of events is unfolding.

Preparing Mini-Plans as Part of Your Strategic Planning Activities

What does a mini-plan include?

A mini-plan should feature clear, understandable terms with a focus on involving the right people upfront. It should spell out the first steps of getting started and provide signals to move to another mini-plan when it has run its course. It’s smart to leave room for the responsible team to fill in sensible actions based on what’s happening during implementation.

We recommend a mini-plan fit on one piece of paper and include the following areas (which are outgrowths of your regular strategic planning activities):

  • Plan Title
  • Goal of the Plan
  • Critical Success Factors
  • Audience(s) that are Impacted or Needed for the Plan
  • Starting Tactics to Launch
  • Expected Resources Needed during Implementation
  • Communications Channels and Messages

This abbreviated structure makes completing a mini-plan relatively quick. Ideally, you shouldn’t need more than 30 minutes to get the mini-plan basics in place. Remember, the heart of the plan is spelling out two or three steps to get started; it’s not a fully-formed strategic plan.

Areas where you create mini-plans are specific to your organization, but consider the following situations:

  • An interruption in a vital capability or function
  • Market-changing competitive moves
  • Reputation-based issues or other external crises that could befall the organization

After identifying potential scenarios where a mini-plan may be valuable (or you have the need thrust upon you from an event taking place), you can quickly prepare relevant mini-plans.

With mini-plans in place, you are in a much better place to make solid, strategic decisions during challenging situations. Even if the current situation necessitates improvisation, the mini-plan will help you start in a pre-planned way, modifying from an approach you’ve had time to consider before the heat of the moment.

Are you using something similar to mini-plans in your strategic planning activities? How are you applying them? And if not, what steps are you taking to handle decision making when you can’t plan ahead? – Mike Brown

What’s Your Implementation Strategy for Uncertain Times?

Things aren’t getting saner and more calm. Are you ready to pursue an implementation strategy that works in uncharted waters?

The Brainzooming eBook 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times will help you examine your strategy foundation, insights, profitability drivers, and decision making processes when few things ahead are clear. We share suggestions on:

  • Using your organization’s core purpose to shape decisions when things are changing
  • Reaching out to employees with valuable insights into what to watch out for and what to expect
  • Sharpening your command of cost and profit levers in your organization
  • Implementing processes to focus and sharpen decision making

4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times is a FREE, quick read that will pay dividends for you today and in the uncertain times ahead.
Download Your FREE eBook! 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times



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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Chuck Dymer co-facilitated a client’s internal management meeting with us recently. Chuck is the owner of Brilliance Activator, which helps leaders uncork the creative genius of their teams to improve products and processes, delight customers, and grow profits.

During the creative thinking workshop we facilitated inside an internal management meeting, participants worked through multiple exercises to identify ideas for internal and customer initiatives. Chuck shared the following example to push the participants toward greater specificity in the ideas they shared. It’s a tremendous example, and I asked him to share it with all of you!

Why Specificity Makes or Breaks a Creative Thinking Workshop by Chuck Dymer

It’s lunchtime and a colleague asks you what you’d like to eat. You answer, “Chinese,” and off you go to a nearby Chinese restaurant. Then you open your menu and discover that there’s not a single item on the menu called Chinese.

Hunan style lemon chicken, mu shu pork, wonton soup–these and many other choices appear on the menu. You can sit and stare at the golden carp in the fish tank or you can order an item off the menu. But eating Chinese? Good luck.

“Chinese” is the name of a cuisine, a style of preparing food associated with a place of origin. You can eat lemon chicken; you can’t eat Chinese. Lemon chicken is specific; Chinese is a generality.

When it comes to idea generation (be it a brainstorm or one of the methods Brainzooming offers), participants often put forward ideas that are too general to be implemented. You can use them to organize or to develop specific ideas. But you can’t implement them.

If you were to run a creative thinking workshop to generate ideas for improving your organization’s morale, odds are that one of the ideas from the group would be “better communication.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? But just as you can’t order something as general as “Chinese,” you can’t implement something as general as “better communication.”

Here’s what you CAN do. You can ask: “What are some specific ways to improve communication?” And you might receive ideas such as “shorter emails” or “fewer emails.” Here’s where it gets interesting, because now you can ask, “How can we shorten our emails?” or “How can we have fewer emails?” Participants might suggest that no email should be longer than 4 tweets, i.e., 480 characters in length. Or they might say that no one can send an email to more than three people at a time. Specific ideas like this can be implemented. You may not want or choose to implement them, but they are actionable and ready for implementation.

After giving participants 10 minutes or so to generate ideas, you can pause and separate the generalities from the specifics. The generalities can be used as topics for organizing specific ideas. For instance, “better communication” might be one topic, with “fewer emails” listed as one option for improving communication.

Now this is where the magic happens. As you continue to organize generalities into topics and ask for specific, actionable steps, you’ll end up with far more ideas than the original 10 minutes produced, and those additional ideas will be much closer to implementation. Of course, ideas must be vetted prior to implementation.

This extra step—separating generalities from specifics in a creative thinking workshop—may at first seem strange. But the benefits are immediate and far-reaching. Remember, ordering the Chinese dish you want by name, rather than saying you want Chinese food, is a much more effective way of ensuring you’ll get exactly what you want. So too with ideas! –  Chuck Dymer, Brilliance Activator

fun-ideas-strategic-planningLooking for Ideas to Make Strategy Planning More Fun?

Yes, developing strategy can be fun . . . if you know the right ways to liven it up while still developing solid strategies! If you’re intrigued by the possibilities, download our FREE eBook, “11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.”


Download Your FREE eBook! 11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning

 

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

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 folks over at “Inside the Executive Suite” from Armada Corporate Intelligence addressed an important aspect of customer experience strategy this week: turning your organization’s claims of customer focus into real actions.

The following ideas (condensed from the original Armada article) highlight four ways to bring your aspirational customer experience strategy to life.

Customer Experience Strategy: 4 Ideas for Creating Customer Focus

In a Bloomberg Businessweek interview with GE CEO, Jeff Immelt, he comments, not surprisingly, multiple times on GE embracing a customer focus. He mentions that even GE narrowing its business portfolio ties to its customer focus: managing unrelated businesses is challenging and demonstrates more of a brand-first than customer-first perspective.

Immelt also discussed the GE transformation toward becoming a digital and software player. Immelt ties the strategic shift, without using the phrase, to the Internet of Things: GE jet engines have hundreds of sensors streaming performance information. Rather than standing by, GE wanted to play a vital role in modeling the data, turning it into actionable knowledge for customers.

Decisions that Benefit Customers

The idea of customer focus is easy to say, but challenging to implement.

To make the concept more actionable, however, let’s posit this idea: one meaningful way to demonstrate customer focus is through helping customers improve their own situations – whether or not it helps a company’s own prospects.

This implies looking at business decisions from a customer’s viewpoint, not the company’s view. While that is natural for some organizations, it runs completely counter to business practices in many others. To stimulate your thinking about what this approach could look like in your organization, here are questions and potential responses for boosting your organization’s customer focus.

1. Making Customers Better Buyers

Think about the price comparison tool Progressive Insurance ads feature. To keep potential customers from third-party sites, Progressive offers competitive price comparisons, even though it does not always win. This is scary for companies. It seems unnatural to boost a competitor’s visibility, but consider how it could improve both customers’ situations and your brand.

Questions to Explore

  • How can we facilitate easier and more accurate buying comparisons for customers?
  • In what ways can we help customers buy ONLY what they need ONLY when they need it?

Your Customer Experience Strategy Response

If you suspect your brand will not fare well in competitor comparisons, explore product and / or service enhancements to improve your position. You can also identify other features and benefits to incorporate into the comparisons to show the true benefit of your brand relative to the competitive set.

2. Creating Smarter Customers

In Immelt’s example with GE, jet engine sensors provide the opportunity to boost customer knowledge in myriad ways. They offer current diagnostics, forward-looking indicators, and long-term trend data. Can the Internet of Things or other information flows provide the same types of insight benefits for your customers?

Questions to Explore

  • Where can we inform customers with performance and exception data they do not currently have access to with our products?
  • How can our products provide visibility to customers where they cannot easily get it right now?
  • In what ways can we deliver predictive information to customers?

Your Customer Experience Strategy Response

These questions challenge you to deliver better information to customers. This can improve their effectiveness, productivity, and growth potential. For your organization, it opens possibilities for new services to interpret the slew of data, further increasing the customer benefits you deliver.

3. Making Customers More Productive

Organizations seem increasingly open to radically different ways of accomplishing basic and advanced business functions. Look beyond your company’s own boundaries to imagine new ways you can enable customers to improve their productivity levels.

Questions to Explore

  • How can we take on new functions for customers to allow them to extend their reach and impact?
  • Where are steps we can remove from our processes that don’t provide value to customers?

Your Customer Experience Strategy Response

Simplification can be a very attractive market position. Simplify life for your customers, whether doing more for them or making them do less when they work with your organization.

4. Providing Greater Value

Many organizations bundle products and services to sustain higher price points. Too often, that’s accomplished through including features that are inexpensive to provide yet offer little additional impact for customers. This is an opportunity to rethink your approach.

Questions to Explore

  • What are ways to unbundle what we offer so it better fits with customer needs, usage, and buying preferences?
  • Are there more attractive bundles from a customer viewpoint?
  • How can we cut the market price of what we offer by ½ to dramatically boost customer value?

Your Customer Experience Strategy Response

These questions cause you to decouple market price from the cost to produce what you offer. Building your price around the customer and the marketplace forces you to re-engineer what you do to achieve the lowest possible cost. That’s a competitively strong way to increase margins vs. simply tacking on an increase to current prices.

A Starting Point for Your Customer Experience Strategy

Not all these areas apply to all companies. If your organization is truly customer-focused, however, tackling these questions will do more to move your brand in that direction than simply telling people you focus on customers. – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

Start Implementing Faster and Better!

In the new Brainzooming strategy eBook 321 GO!, we share common situations standing in the way of successfully implementing your most important strategies. You will learn effective, proven ways to move your implementation plan forward with greater speed and success. You’ll learn ways to help your team:

  • Move forward even amid uncertainty
  • Take on leadership and responsibility for decisions
  • Efficiently move from information gathering to action
  • Focusing on important activities leading to results

Today is the day to download your copy of 321 GO!

Download Your FREE eBook! 321 GO! 5 Ways to Implement Faster and Better!



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.

More Posts - Website

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