Tuesday, September 13, 2016

When does an idea become an innovation?

When it’s implemented. That’s the easy answer. And the hardest part. Ideas are the offspring and the wellspring of creativity.

According to Wikipedia: “Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed. The created item may be intangible (such as an idea, a scientific theory, a musical composition, or a joke) or a physical object (such as an invention, a literary work, or a painting).”

Something new, and something valuable. When creativity moves a business forward both are critical. New because it defines and gives differentiated meaning to your brand, your product or service. And valuable, for obvious reasons – to increase sales volume, to sell new things, to sell into different markets and to new customers, or to surprise the heck out of your current customers by understanding an unmet and unstated need, and to sell them (those who already know and love you) something new.

You know that person, that leader, that colleague, or consultant who always has the craziest ideas? That’s the creative mind. But that doesn't mean they can innovate. 


They are the ones who have the ideas. Getting the ideas out from their big brains, breathing life into them, understanding all the inherent and hidden and never-before-explored challenges in making them real is another set of skills completely. That takes putting them (the ideas) to work. And the greatest, coolest, most breakthrough ideas only become innovations when they are put into practice. Having been the one with ideas in too many situations to count, that’s the hardest part.

It takes committing to design thinking, moving fast, and getting messy.
  • Create. Build. Prototype.
  • Learn. Iterate. Repeat.

Fast, faster, fastest. Your creative idea is great, no, it’s amazing. Hold on to it and at the same time look deeply at all the non-creative things necessary to get over the hurdles to implementation.

Logistics. Legalities. Partnerships. Timing. Internal politics. Competitive forces. These are not the sexy stuff that ideas are made of.  And they are very real on the road to implementation. Without them, it’s just another cool idea.

So dig in and do the hard parts, after you get over the glow of having the idea. Don't let your creativity die on the boards. As Oliver Blume, CEO of Porsche recently wrote, "NO matter how great an idea is, it's not an innovation unless it advances a company." 


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Your brand story. And why should it matter to me?


“We’re the lowest priced single-family detached, non-motor court product.”

“No two homes are the same – they are all different. Some have bedrooms with bay windows, because of these bump-outs. Others don’t. Nothing is cookie cutter.”

“Two of our plans have full-sized driveways, so you don’t even have to deal with the motor-court at all.”

Compelling, motivating reasons to buy a home in a new community? Or details I maybe didn’t know or need to care about, until that seed of doubt was planted.  True story, experienced when shopping for homes in a new planned community.

Stories that tell me nothing about the community itself, and give me reasons not to buy each specific home. Unintentional for sure, but a missed opportunity to connect with me. To understand me. What my situation is. What my needs are. Armed with that knowledge, the salesperson would have been able to understand exactly how their homes (not “product”) could make my life amazing. And why this community offered the lifestyle I crave.

Without that, the experience is like a doctor prescribing a medication, before they complete the diagnosis. Maybe I don’t need that anti-depressant. Maybe it’s the anti-inflammatory that will fix my strained Achilles tendon?

And it all comes down to the story being told. Even industry giants like IBM are on board with the power of story in business. Mary Winans, CMO of IBM explained in a recent AdAge article why they are hiring Hollywood screenwriters on staff, in-house. To tell their story, in ways that will connect with all their various customers. And to pay attention to the narrative arc – what comes first, how does interest build, then how does it end, leaving you wanting the sequel?

IBMs’ Winans said it best, “We’re getting better at not forcing a discussion about product too early in the process. Before we introduce a solution, we want to make sure we really understand a particular prospect’s challenge.” (Find the full interview here: http://bit.ly/2bKjqoD).

The best stories connect on a personal level. It’s what makes storytelling a very powerful tool in business, turning what you sell from a commodity, into an experience people want.  Next time you have the opportunity to talk with one of your customers, try switching from the old model: “We sell __________. They are made of the finest ________, with the finest ________. Want to buy one?”

Instead, try asking a few questions, and then listen to your customers before you hit the play button and launch the script about what you are or are not. Start with the why you do what you do. Then tell them how you do it. And only then, tell them the what you do.


Tell your story. And make it a good one. You know it will be shared!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Community forms in all the right places - and my found $5 bill finally finds the right home.

After a little over two years in my safe keeping, the $5 bill I found randomly tucked into the rim of a baseball cap in the Life is good store in the Seattle-Tacoma Airport has finally found its rightful, deserving home.

About 4:15pm on an overcast and not particularly nice Monday afternoon I headed out for a walk to clear my mind. I passed a gangly teenage boy with his bike, struggling to make the tape on a cardboard sign stick to a streetlight post. It read, “On Sidonia Street – LEMONADE”. Red felt pen on a piece of cardboard, hard to read for sure, never mind at 50mph. But at my pedestrian scale and pace the message was clear.
The tradition of the summertime lemonade stand lives on. But it took on an even deeper meaning. Here was this kid on a Monday, 4:15pm, overcast, with his lemonade stand fully 500 feet back, and even up the crest of a hill further away from his sign, with zero sightline from the road, putting in his time and ideas in the hopes of making money of his own. #entrepreneur

I altered my planned walking route, turned around and picked up the pace home, hopefully before the last glass of the day was poured, to retrieve my $5 bill. I’ve carried that bill on probably 50 trips since finding it. All over the country, to Canada, to Mexico and to Japan last month, looking for the right reason to pass it on. Today I found it.

Meet Noah, on the right, holding his $5 bill. He’s 15. And that’s his buddy Charlie on the left. He’s 13.

Noah, on the right, with his $5 bill

I told them the story of the $5 bill, where and how I found it, and what it meant to me. I told them the responsibility I felt to give it away to just the right person. They told me today was their first day in business, and it was a dry run for a busy sunny Saturday or Sunday when they’ll serve more people. They had to work the kinks out. And they described their market area a.k.a. community. "It's a great street," said Noah. "Lots of people walk here and everyone is really nice". 


I asked how sales were. “We’ve been open about 30 minutes before you got here and we have $3 so far. Now $8,” said Noah. Then he volunteered, “I know, our sign is in the wrong direction and it’s hard to read.” I handed him the thick black Sharpie pen I had brought as well, so they could make their message more readable.

And for $5 I had the best glass of lemonade ever. They were serving 2 choices, a small white cup, or a larger red cup, and the choice of regular or pink lemonade. Noah poured me a big red cup of pink lemonade, complete with ice. 

Best pink lemonade, ever. 
As he slipped the well-travelled $5 into the plastic money box on top of his lemonade stand his shy smile said it all. He was proud of being in business and doing something on his own. And to me, Noah was not just an excited new entrepreneur, but a metaphor of a positive future. One Noah at a time, doing what he does, with pride and commitment builds community.

I left knowing the $5 I found two years ago was finally where it was meant to be. And it truly made my day. Maybe my week.

Read about how I first found the $5 bill here: http://tstinkthink.blogspot.com/2014/07/paying-it-forward-shows-up-in.html

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Slower Growth Demands Creating New Demand

Just read an article by one of my favorite futurists and big thinkers - J Walker Smith, of The Futures Company and it made me think and embrace the role marketing has in driving business growth. It's less about projecting and pro-formaing annual increases in appreciation for products sold by the business. It's less about financial modeling and those equations. That is the traditional strategy for success in a high growth economy - when there is an expanding pool of more people able to pay a higher price for your products sold. Modeling and projecting volume and velocity of increases. That worked in a high growth economy.

The article makes a powerful case that the slower growth we are seeing is not a down cycle soon to rebound, or a "slower than expected recovery". J Walker Smith and team lay out how and why the economy has been shifted to a lower set point that will persist, and any cycles will go up and down around this set point. Enter marketing, and the huge job of creating new demand. Slower growth is a consumer disruption of demand. Growth won't come from more people willing to pay more for what we sell. It will come from expanding our product and business offerings within this bounded, constrained market a.k.a. from creating new demand, not following previously predictable economic trends and projecting aggressive growth rates. 

Our job is to rethink and reshape markets constrained by the cycle of slower economic growth reduces consumer spending - weaker consumer spending reduces economic growth. 

How? 

  • Look at the demographic shifts in who has money today, shifts in social values and impacts of technology - it's at the intersection of these and other factors where new pools of potential can be created
  • Look at the cultural edges - it's here where leading edge consumers live and are doing their part shifting cultural and social values - and in so doing changing what customers judge as a value proposition. That shift can create seismic new product opportunities. 
  • Look at the disruptors - outside your industry - for the risk-takers disrupting other industries, and not just for entertainment, but as inspiration to change your business model. And then change it! 


The full article is here, http://thefuturescompany.com/defying-gravity-sources-of-growth-in-a-slower-growth-global-economy/ and worth the read. It's one of the best my marketing mind has read in some time about what we all seem to be referring to with phrases like, "The economic recovery has been slower than we projected", or "we projected higher increases in the recovery than we are seeing", or "we're still not back to the normal markets before the crash", or "the new normal". 

It's a siren call to marketing types in all industries to use your powers of observation, your ability to connect disparate pieces of information and find the "so what factor". Find a way to ask "how might we" when you see a glimmer of new potential demand. And, take the hill. The future of business depends on it. We can count and model money all day long. It's going to get more difficult to make it. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Dear World.

Dear World.
Tears drip from my fingertips onto my keyboard tonight. #Dallas. 12 officers shot. 1 civilian. 5 dead. It has to stop. There are only so many times Facebook profile pic badges can honor the senselessly lost. 

Dear World.
It used to be horrific events would happen rarely and infrequently enough that I would remember where I was at the exact moment it happened. The Space Shuttle Columbia explosion, I was in the tunnel at Carleton University, first year Journalism student. Oklahoma bombing, it was my brother's birthday, April 19th. Columbine, I was just finishing a press check on a brochure for a client. 9/11, I was starting my day at my marketing agency and client/friend, Stephanie was on her way to the airport in Vancouver and called me to tell me why her flight was cancelled and to turn on the TV. Virginia Tech shooting, I was checking into my hotel in Raleigh and the front desk clerk told me. Sandy Hook in Newtown, I was at work in San Diego. Boston Marathon, I was on a conference call with the Tampa team, in my office in San Diego - it was a sunny day. 

Now there is an event as awful as this it seems once a week. Charleston, SC. San Bernardino, CA. Paris nightclub. Roseville, OR. Orlando, FL. These are the ones I remember from the past few months. NOT the ones I can never forget. The balance has tipped. What once was a rare, shocking occurrence has become a shockingly common one. 
This week aloneTurkey airport. Bangladesh coffee shop. Baton Rouge, LA. Minnesota, MN. And now Dallas, TX.

I will walk into the office tomorrow, past colleagues who will be staring unemotionally and blankly at the big screen TV on the wall as they wait for their coffee to brew. Some will ignore them and walk past. Others will stop and engage, and pass judgement and predictions about why this happened and who's to blame. 

One of our co-workers is in Dallas tonight, with her son in a national fencing championship - he came in second in his age class. They are staying a few blocks from the Dallas events. I texted her to check in. She was calm, trying to get her son who was very upset ("My son is flipping out. I need to play it down because he's a mess") safely back to their hotel after enjoying a baseball game. No mother should feel that. No child should feel that fear. No mother should lose their child (and 5 did so far tonight) to the violence we experience daily. 

Dear World. 
Please resist the cause-effect flawed equations. Please resist placing blame, and inflaming the anger that is so prevalent. Please resist drawing conclusions to reinforce a position, or god forbid make it a political statement in this crazy time. As leaders - and all of us are leaders in our own way - whether as a parent, a business owner, a manager of people in an organization, or just someone the guy at the local coffee shop talks to, we need to change the discourse. There is far too much anger, hatred, judgement, and just pure frenzy. 

As leaders, we need to speak, teach, and act tolerance, compassion, kindness, patient, love. Anything but the spread of judgement and hatred so much a part of the dialogue today. 

Dear World. 
It has to stop. Make the screaming and pain and violence stop. We are much better than this. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Your Market(ing) Has a Blind Spot

It's embarrassing to admit it has been almost two years since my last post. I'm now inspired, and I can't promise what will or won't come of it. The world of marketing continues to evolve at vapor speed. Two years ago Instagram was just catching on. The notion of native content was foreign to most of us. And we still talked about the "awareness-interest-evaluation-trial-adoption" funnel. This model was old then, and today it's prehistoric. Recent history (and in the discipline of marketing that means about a year) dictates we should be more concerned about the multimodal, multi-path, customer journey and not just getting our awareness (or number of FB likes) up.

There's no correlation between awareness and market share. It's just the first stage in the "customer choice chain". And they will make many of them all along their path to purchase. Few companies (mine included) have conducted rigorous analysis of customer choices across segments and markets, and what we can do to earn that choice. Part of the sweet spot in all of this is finding the "values fit" between your brand and your customers' needs. Doing that well can turn that choice into conviction and that's what moves the needle.

So, on this first post in two years (the first of many more to come) I challenge you:
- How do you pay attention to what your customers are telling you about their values?
- How do you capture that intel to earn your customers' choice?

Check out this great example from #converse that shows how they did it.
Brand connections are found in all the right, and sometimes very strange places.
http://onforb.es/27FakjE