Strategic Thinking | The Brainzooming Group - Part 2 – page 2
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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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3d-Cover-Innovation-FearsWhether spoken or unspoken, organizations can send strong messages saying, “If it isn’t broken, don’t screw around with it” in a variety of ways. Such messages make it clear that good things do not await those pushing for innovation involving any significant level of risk.

This free Brainzooming innovation eBook identifies seven typical business innovation fears. For each fear, we highlight strategy options to mitigate the fears and push forward with innovative strategies. We tackle:

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  • Situations where your best strategy is taking business innovation underground

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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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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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How can you get the most mileage from the free strategic planning eBooks we regularly offer as downloads?

We do not pretend to be able to imagine EVERY single situation where you might apply our strategic thinking exercises. Yet when we create new eBooks, our main goal is ensuring the content is heavy on ideas and tools you can apply to improve strategic thinking and implementation in your organization.

One way we test that expectation is by working with the exercises ourselves to ensure their effectiveness and utility.

Using Our Own Strategic Planning Exercises

Considering that, here’s an example of how, as one previous boss might say, we eat our own dog food (in this case, strategic thinking exercises).

I was working yesterday on designing an upcoming strategic planning Zoomference for a client. One objective for the Zoomference is to push the leadership group’s thinking toward innovative ideas they might have never considered a few years before.

Reaching the part of the outline where we’re going to turn the participants toward more disruptive thinking, I needed to come up with appropriate strategic thinking questions for the client to consider. Turning around in my chair, I saw a draft copy of our Disrupting Thinking eBook. It is filled with questions to push thinking on multiple topics, including brand benefits, success factors, risk taking, and new market entry. I grabbed the copy, combed through it, and found five great questions.

Total time from identifying what I needed to having five strong potential strategic thinking questions?

Less than five minutes.

Compare that to sitting with a blank screen struggling to imagine brand new strategic thinking questions from scratch. I know I would have spent way more than five minutes.

If you’re similarly on the hook to come up with engaging questions or strategy and innovation ideas (which you likely are if you are still reading this), you would have taken the same or more amount of time.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be done in five minutes and ready to move on to the next thing?

How Much Time Do You Want to Save in the Next Year?

So, go ahead and download Disrupting Thinking right now. And grab our eBook with 600 strategic thinking questions, too. You will save TENS OF HOURS (maybe more) of time over the next year with these two Brainzooming downloads.
Download Your FREE eBook! Disrupting Thinking - 13 Exercises to Imagine Disrupting Your Brand

So yeah, we eat our own strategic thinking exercise dog food.

And it tastes darn good.

Plus, we share it ALL THE TIME! – Mike Brown

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We were listening in on an internal innovation strategy call conducted by one of our clients. The team was wrestling with a concern voiced by the organization’s senior leader that its complete innovation portfolio wasn’t capable of yielding the financial impact he is seeking. The key question was, “Where’s the beef with this innovation strategy?”

via Shutterstock

The sense of unease among the organization’s innovation team leaders was palpable. They were feeling a need to scramble. They seemed ready to jump through hoops to justify the innovation strategy to the CEO. However, that would have entailed veering from their well-considered implementation plans.

3 Questions When the Innovation Strategy ROI Doesn’t Satisfy the Boss

Before they deviated from their very solid innovation strategy approach (only some of which we helped shape—they’ve been doing great work on their own), I challenged them to consider three questions:

#1. Is there a legitimate basis for the C-Suite challenge to their innovation strategy?

Does the organization truly lack innovation, or is the senior leader lacking awareness and understanding of the work the team has already accomplished? If they can’t answer that question upfront, they risk a lot of potentially unnecessary effort.

#2. Is there a standard methodology for quantifying the impact of the innovation strategy?

If yes, does it support the CEO’s perspective? If there isn’t a standard methodology to project and quantify the innovation strategy impact, it would be a better use of their time to develop one, rather than launching a disruptive CYA effort.

#3. If the team lacks innovation opportunities with a significant financial impact, what can they do to quickly find or create them?

Since it’s far better to scramble for progress than to take a CYA approach, what steps do they need to take to make this happen?

Where do you start looking for the innovation strategy beef?

In a follow-up call, they were still evaluating the need to pump up the number of new ideas to deliver the beef to the CEO.

Hearing they had still not answered these three questions and we’re trying to come up with more ways to generate more ideas, I cautioned them, using an analogy: they should answer the question about where the beef is by going to the fridge and putting a patty on the grill. Instead, they were primed to go out into the fields to look for more cows. The problem is that cows are difficult to find, and new cows don’t often yield the expected beef.

I’m hoping they are going to concentrate and invest their efforts into developing existing ideas, even if at the same time they’re pulling out all stops to get the CEO a satisfactory response.

Should you find yourself in this unenviable-yet-crucial position within your own organization, I encourage you to consider the questions above. They may just mean the difference between progress and business as usual! – 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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