Strategic Thinking | The Brainzooming Group - Part 2 – page 2
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Is your business-to-business brand looking for new product ideas, stronger innovation strategy opportunities, and a bigger impact?

If so, look for ways to shape the customer experience of your product’s end users.

That doesn’t mean the intermediaries your organization may view as its customers: the distributors, wholesalers, or others that sell or bundle your product. Look to the customer experience as delivered to actual organizations and/or individuals that are USING your product on a daily basis.

What do you know about the people who are touching, interacting with, and determining whether your product makes their days better or worse? (Or perhaps your product is so seamless or invisible that it doesn’t even register with them.)

You know those people are out there, but how much time do you devote to thinking about the impact your product has on them?

If it’s slim to none, it’s time to dramatically increase the amount of consideration you give to end users – right away!

We took that approach when developing an innovation strategy workshop for a B2B manufacturer. While the organization has extensive insights into its intermediaries, we oriented many of the innovation strategy exercises toward the ways the people using their product experience (or don’t) what the company manufactures. One participant noted at the end of the workshop that focusing on the experience was new and valuable for them when it came to identifying new opportunities.

If you’re in the same situation, look to the individuals that are the last ones to interact with your product. How can you orient your innovation strategy to the experiences THEY have? – Mike Brown

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Need a Stronger Innovation Strategy to Grow Your Brand? Brainzooming Has an Answer!

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  • Incorporate market-based perspectives into your innovation strategy in successful ways

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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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The 2018 Fast Company Most Innovative Companies issue arrived Saturday. It’s always a wonderful inspiration for strategic and creative thinking questions (plus it’s exciting that we have a current client among the companies recognized). In the spirit of the first Agility question below, rather than trying to imagine questions from across all the companies listed, we limited the focus to creative thinking questions inspired by the top ten most innovative companies’ innovation journeys and priorities.

16 Creative Thinking Questions from the Most Innovative Companies

You can apply these creative thinking questions to trigger your own brand’s strategic thinking on innovation strategy:

Strategy

  • What’s the heart of our brand that we can double down on right away?
  • If our time horizon were 25 years, what current things would we eliminate? Which ones would we accelerate?
  • How is our leadership removing distractions to innovation (instead of creating them)?
  • How can we focus on innovation results and let the financial results follow?
  • Where can we mass resources for innovations with the biggest impacts?

Customer-Focused Innovation Strategy

  • What remarkably new things can we deliver to the marketplace in the next year? 3 years? 25 years?
  • Where can we innovate to allow customers to do things they have never been able to accomplish before?
  • Where can we innovate to provide customers and partners greater visibility and growth opportunities?
  • What innovations would help customers do the right things?
  • What would we halt if we stopped doing anything that might be remotely bad for customers?
  • What will it take to immediately stop using our customers as guinea pigs for innovation?
  • How is our B2B brand dramatically changing individuals’ lives?
  • What opportunities will let us grow by 100x the amount and variety of valuable content our brand produces for customers?

Agility

  • What can we do to deliver innovations when they need to get to market vs. when we’re done tinkering?
  • What changes would let us keep tinkering and improving right up to the time we deliver our next innovation?
  • Which of our internal systems have value for other brands like ours that we can sell?

Which creative thinking questions from the most innovative companies will you take to your next leadership team meeting to focus the conversation on your own brand’s innovation strategy?  – Mike Brown

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The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions

Engage employees and customers with powerful questions to uncover great breakthrough ideas and innovative strategies that deliver results! This Brainzooming strategy eBook features links to 600 proven questions for:

  • Developing Strategy

  • Branding and Marketing

  • Innovation

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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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We were facilitating report outs at a strategy planning workshop after multiple teams tackled developing high-level plans to improve various employee challenges in a relatively high-performing company. Chuck Dymer, who was co-facilitating the client workshop with me, remarked at the depth and importance of several of the report outs and the conversations they sparked.

Why were these report outs different than others we’d done previously?

Four of the five report outs in this strategy planning workshop were delivered by female leaders in the organization.

Rather than looking at the report outs as perfunctory assignments, the female leaders used the platform to share hopes, concerns, frustrations, and possibilities important to them and to the organization. And once they did, the men in the group jumped in to these powerful conversations.

If you’re in charge of a company or a significant business unit or department, are you actively managing gender diversity? Are you making sure women are in leadership positions where they can voice things that need to be said that male leaders are unwilling to say?

These questions are real.

And for the too many client strategy planning workshops we facilitate (especially in business-to-business settings) where all the participants are male, these questions about female leaders are of supreme importance.

What are your answers to the questions, and what are you doing to improve the situation right away? – Mike Brown

 

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Facing Innovation Barriers? Here Is Help!

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Are you facing organizational innovation barriers related to:

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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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An article in The Wall Street Journal by Paul Ziobro shares an report on how toy manufacturers, including Mattel and Hasbro, are accelerating their new product innovation processes. The brands want to capitalize on market growth stemming from toys tied to popular social media themes. These trends, as one industry insider put it, “burn really bright and really short,” necessitating abbreviating product development cycles from several years to months, or even weeks. Thus, the need to catalyze innovative success by streamlining the steps between ideas and implementation.

2 Super Smart Ways to Catalyze Innovative Success

Let’s review two of critical success factors toy manufacturers are embracing that are of value, if your brand also wants to speed up its innovation pace.

1. Listening to the Market in Multiple Ways

From just the few toy industry innovation stories reported in the WSJ, you see multiples ways of incorporating broad and early market perceptions to shape innovation:

  • Social Media Listening
    Portland-based organization Zing employs three people to monitor social media for popular topics with the potential to inspire successful toys. During June 2016, they noticed people in Greece using beads as a toy for nervous fidgeting. That holiday season, it released Thumb Chucks, its own version of the beads.
  • Observing Behavior
    Online video platforms provide new ways to observe customer behaviors and perceptions beyond formal research studies. Hasbro has released multiple toys based on viral video trends, including bottle flipping and people wearing dental mouth guards as they try to pronounce complicated words.
  • Point-of-Sale Analytics Trends
    LaRose Industries saw Walmart sales of its Cra-Z-Art glue increase over 50% monthly in the fall of 2016. Investigation showed that kids were creating slime (a gooey, fun concoction popularized on the Nickelodeon TV network) by mixing the glue with other household products. LaRose jumped on the growth trend, introducing slime-making kits in January 2017.
  • Securing Early Commitments
    Before producing the slime-making kits, LaRose Industries paired with Nickelodeon to license the slime name and identity, boosting potential customer awareness immediately. It also secured interest from retailers at the January toy show. It only then moved into manufacturing, reaching stores within 45 days.

Beyond these possibilities, what else can your brand explore to expand its repertoire of market listening strategies?

  • Directly Observing Customers
    Whether in business or consumer markets, how can you secure cooperation from your customers to observe them in their work or home settings, using your products and others? This is a fruitful way to identify innovation opportunities customers can’t clearly articulate.
  • Involve Customer-Facing Employees
    Instead of confining new product innovation to employees working in corporate offices, directly involve sales, customer service, and other employees who routinely interact with customers. They are a rich source of customer insights and feedback.

2. Exploiting Small and Nimble to Catalyze Innovative Success

Another theme from the toy industry stories is taking advantage of smallness – in team sizes, budgets, and development windows – coupled with sizable impact expectations:

  • Hasbro
    It has created a Quick Strike team to push new product innovation stemming from popular social media topics and memes. The team has released new products in as few as 11 weeks. The manufacturer is migrating the approach into its overall organization.
  • Mattel
    The team deployed to develop social-trend based toys at Mattel is made up of ten people. The company’s CEO reports having given the team very little budget and only three months to have toy ideas ready for last January’s toy fair. The toys are scheduled to reach stores later in 2018.

Restricting resources and keeping big innovation demands in place can seem counter-intuitive. The strategy is consistent, though, with other case studies of major brands creating small, separate incubators to rapidly develop new ideas. Consider these points when developing a comparable strategy to boost nimbleness and speed:

  • First Plan the Team around Capabilities
    Rather than starting team selection with an org chart, identify the talents, capabilities, and functions the team needs. Only then start looking for the right people. Set a goal of maximizing the talent pool with as few people as possible. More people provide more ways to slow down decisions and progress.
  • Push for Self-Sufficiency
    A corporate intrapreneurial leader in the cosmetics industry cautions innovation teams to develop their own solutions rather than reaching back into their main organizations. Her experience was that parent organization answers carry time, complications, and overhead that a rapid development team can’t tolerate.
  • Streamline Decision Making
    Identify upfront the team’s parameters to keep moving forward without seeking review and approvals. As you remove typical decisions steps, make sure to enforce this simplified process throughout the development cycle. Otherwise, the parent organization may work overtime to slow down ideas it hasn’t vetted in the typical fashion.

What Else Do You Need?

These examples can get you thinking about new ways to streamline innovation. If you want to go deeper, the Accelerate eBook covers sixteen keys for finding resources to accelerate your innovation strategy. Get your copy today!Adapted from Inside the Executive Suite

 

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This Brainzooming eBook will help identify additional possibilities for people, funding, and resources to jump start your innovation strategy. You can employ the strategic thinking exercises in Accelerate to:

  • Facilitate a collaborative approach to identifying innovation resources
  • Identify alternative internal strategies to secure support
  • Reach out to external partners with shared interests in innovation

Download your FREE copy of Accelerate Your Innovation Strategy today! 

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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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You’re leading a major new initiative for your organization. It’s kind of a big deal. Since you’re leading it, that means a lot of other people ARE NOT leading it. Nearly all of them are fine with that. It’s one fewer thing to be responsible for beyond their regular day jobs.

One person, however, resents the hell out of your leading the initiative.

This person (let’s make him a guy, because we all know, it’s almost always a guy) knows that HE should be leading the initiative. It’s HIS area of expertise. HE has the best experience. He’s been around longer than you have, is known by all the key executives, and basks in his reputation as always wanting to be the one credited with making things happen.

He sees the new initiative you are leading quite plainly: YOU are going to get the credit if things go well. In his twisted way, if YOU are getting credit for a success, that makes HIM look worse. That leaves only one option: do everything possible (without calling attention to it) to sabotage you, the initiative, and its ultimate success.

What leadership strategy should you employ to succeed while dealing with this type of pernicious corporate antagonist?

The expected answer is probably to keep the corporate antagonist as far away from the initiative as possible.

An Unconventional Leadership Strategy with a Corporate Antagonist

When a new executive at a company faced this situation, I counseled him to instead adopt a leadership strategy where he invites the antagonist into all the planning activities for the new initiative.

The advice surprised him.

Here’s the reason for suggesting it. Inviting the corporate antagonist into the heart of the process forces him to openly share his resistance. Participating in everything, he will be part of a lot of strategy setting, review points, and decisions. Across those opportunities, he’s going to have to either constructively participate or use crazy levels of subterfuge to hide the sabotage he really hopes to carry out successfully. If he elects to go the route of trying to jam things ups for the new initiative later, the initiative leader will have documented a whole array of comments and involvement to challenge and confront the duplicity.

According to the new executive, the strategy is working. The antagonist feels involved. He’s having to go public with several biases and perennial weak spots in his leadership style as he tries to protect his previous work.

In this case, keeping a business ally close and a corporate antagonist even closer is working even when it seems an unconventional leadership strategy. – Mike Brown

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Last week, The Brainzooming Group was in San Francisco for the Social Media Strategies Summit, where Mike presented a content marketing strategy workshop and a talk on collaborative engagement. In the workshop, he brought up the idea of turning seemingly boring brands into cool brands. That’s important, because brand strategy has everything to do with cool. This is true even if you’re an industrial brand, as Mike pointed out:

Well, okay, you might be thinking, But there’s nothing cool about our brand. There’s no fire. We’re completely utilitarian, unhip, the least sexy service on the planet. Possibly the galaxy. Hear me, friend: no matter what you do, there’s something inherently cool about your services, your product, your people, and maybe even all three. Marcel Proust was spot on when he wrote that the voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. So let’s see about getting some new eyes and putting them to work for you.

3 Keys to Creating Cool Brands from Boring Brands

1. Define Cool

Start by making sure your definition is up to date. Cool used to be a narrow space occupied by a select few, but that isn’t the case any longer. Its definition has expanded, if not outright exploded, and now there’s much more space at this particular table. Within the current landscape, here are a few traits I see that fit inside the broad category of cool brands:

  • On trend
  • Intelligent
  • Humanitarian
  • Rebellious
  • Kind
  • Honest
  • Clever
  • Unique
  • Consistent
  • Simple

What makes these things cool? It all boils down to the same thing. And despite its recent run as an overused buzzword, at its core it’s all that matters. It’s authenticity, of course. When something is true, we know it on an instinctual level that can be hard to quantify. Perhaps it’s easier to quantify its opposite. It’s a scientific fact that phoniness disguised as authenticity creeps us out. To paraphrase the incisively smart Eve Callahan from Umpqua Bank, whose presentation at the Social Media Strategies Summit left my brain…well, zooming: humans are great at spotting blanks.

But when we’re interacting with authenticity, there’s a sense of order and peace about the interaction. There’s even, dare I say, a sense of fun and creativity about it. In this unreliable world, authenticity is as cool as it gets. So whether you’re authentically kind, consistent, rebellious, clever, or something else altogether: you’re cool. Humans love authenticity. (It’s essential for excellence. If excellence were a planet, authenticity would be its carbon, the basis for all its life forms.)

Chances are, your organization can identify two or three of these as descriptors, but generally there’s a standout trait in what you do and how you do it that’s become, in the mind of your customer, a kind of shorthand for your identity. (If that makes you nervous, don’t worry, just keep reading: this is going to help.)

2. Ask Your People

So what is that standout trait? Ask your people. For our purposes, “your people” comprises customers, colleagues, higher-ups, partners, collaborators, and, if possible, competitors. Reach out to as many as possible to get their input. You can do this in person (quickly ask someone on your way to a meeting, or when you’re grabbing a coffee, and jot down their answer), via email, via text, over the phone, using an online survey or collaboration — you get the picture. If you can get everyone to respond on one platform, that’s great, but it’s not necessary. What’s definitely necessary is to have the feedback of multiple representatives from each group.

When you feel you’ve gotten either as much feedback as you need, or as much as you’re going to get, take a close look at it. What words come up most often? Which one most closely matches your brand promise?* Once you’ve identified that, you can move on to the fun part.

3. Amp it Up

This is where you bring it to life. Set aside some planning time, then take that ineffable cool that’s central to your organization and walk it through every available venue. If you can include a couple of trusted associates to help, all the better. Make your cool the lens through which you see, the starting point of everything you do. What does honesty (or rebellion, or intelligence, or kindness, etc.) look like in social-first content, in print, over radio? What does it look it in customer service, in an internal newsletter, in an all-hands-on-deck meeting? How does a fundamentally honest organization start and end the business day?

Chances are, your organization’s doing some (or many!) of these things already, but you’ll find that you’re coming up with simple-to-implement ideas that had never occurred to you before. And while you can’t possibly change everything you’d like to change, there’s probably a whole lot you can amp up to shine a big spotlight on what make your cool brand as cool as it is. Which has the potential to drastically improve the strength and success of your entire organization.

And that’s pretty cool. Emma Alvarez Gibson

*If they don’t match, perhaps it’s time for a little internal disruptive thinking?

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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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“Is there a way to decide how much content brands in a multi-brand family can share, and how much needs to be different among the brands?”

I’ve been asked that question multiple times recently after delivering Brainzooming social-first content marketing strategy workshops.

My answer?

Return to the fundamentals we teach for building a content marketing strategy. In these cases, however, you can approach things in reverse order, unpacking your brand strategy framework to answer this type of question.

3 Steps to Find Multi-Brand Content Marketing Strategy Similarities

Step 1 – Audience Personas

The first step is to identify what personas are in use across the multiple brands. Are there separate personas or are they the same? If they are different, how much do their interests overlap with one another?

Step 2 – Content Preferences

Next look at how much the personas’ content preferences and profiles match one another. Which themes and topics are going to be of interest to all the groups? Do they represent a large or small portion of the overall content?

Step 3 – Brand Promise Components

Finally, go through a three-question branding exercise that we use in many situations. In this case, it helps you understand your audiences’ expectations and tolerances for unique content:

  • What does each brand’s audience EXPECT in the content the brand shares?
  • What types of variations from that content will the audience ACCEPT from the brand?
  • If the brand delivers the optimum content, how will the audience REWARD the highly-targeted content?

Across this series of questions, you can begin to form conclusions about your options for creating content that is common across all your brands. – Mike Brown Download Fast Forward Today!

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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