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Archive for the ‘brainstorm’ Category

Pure genius from Gavin Heaton (again):

We all shuffle into the meeting and take our chairs. We greet one another, sip our coffee and lift our pens in silent readiness — after all, one never knows when an action point will be thrust across the room.

Before long, even the most strategic of strategy sessions will be punctuated by tactics (and let me admit I am as guilty of this as anyone). In a bizarre twist on meeting bingo, marketing bingo is littered with words such as “viral”, “youtube”, “facebook” — and increasingly, “social media”. Much of this is driven by short-term, campaign oriented thinking and a focus on short-term objectives. However, when it comes to advising our clients (whether they be internal or external), it is important to remember that campaigns (and microsites) are no longer stand-alone. Google has seen to that.

Where once we built our discrete campaigns around various plans to raise awareness, generate demand, build brand, stimulate sales, accelerate trial etc, brand custodians now need to consider a longer term narrative line that incorporates the way that consumers engage with the brand over time. We no longer have disconnected brand campaigns but discontinuous brand interactions. The crucial link between each of these campaigns is a combination of social media powered by Google. That is:

  • The articles or references that bloggers make about your campaign (whether it is digital or not)
  • The perspectives published by the media (advertising media as well as other publishers
  • User generated content that riffs off your campaign

All of this can be found by Google. More importantly, it can be found by Google well into the future — long after your campaign has ended. For example, when I search on some of my old projects, I can find all the pointers, the conversations and the discussions AROUND them, but the project has passed. The microsite has gone. All we are left with are traces leading nowhere. This is brand equity being squandered.

In the future, we need to think about brand lifecycles. We need to think about brand “through lines” — and design experiences with entry and exit strategies. We need to start putting as much thinking into “reversing the launch” as we put into the start of a campaign.

When we reverse the launch, we can draw upon the P-L-A-Y framework, delivering an experience that enhances and continues the conversations that evolve around your campaign. In fact, part of your strategy could be to build upon some of these user generated conversations as a catalyst for ongoing dialogue. After all, creating the talking point is one of the early challenges, maintaining or stoking that conversation requires much less effort and attention.

This reminds me of a lesson one of my English teachers shared with me one day many years ago: Try telling your story backwards. Start from the end, and work your way back to the beginning. (This is basically the writer’s version of proofing an equation.) There are very definite applications here, especially for those of us who look at brand development as more than just a finite sets of tactics and campaigns. As Gavin points out, the reality of today’s digital world is that nothing in communications is finite anymore. (Not that it ever was.) Search engines, blogs and message boards keep a record of every conversation, every opinion and every intersect between your campaign, launch or other tactic and the public at large. The ripples keep spreading long after you’ve dropped the pebble in the water.

As one of my weapons instructors told us before our first group live fire exercise: “You can’t call back a bullet.” Once you unleash a product, a message, a campaign, you’ve unleashed it. Even if it runs very far away and you forget about it over time, it’s still out there.

It isn’t enough to just build, launch and move on to the next thing anymore. You have to look at the effects of every brand-to-people engagement in terms of ripples. In terms of momentum. In terms of intersects with other ripples. This is the difference between looking at things from a strategic standpoint and looking at things almost solely from a tactical standpoint. The pickle that many companies find themselves in these days is simple and comes in two forms: a) Too much tactical, not enough strategic (not enough focus on strategy to guide the tactics or give them purpose and continuity) and b) Confusing strategy with tactics (the subject of an earlier post).

None of this stuff is rocket science, but when companies spend too much time operating in response/fighting fires mode, they tend to miss out on the big picture. There’s a reason why rally drivers have co-pilots: When you’re racing along treacherous roads at 100mph, you need one guy to drive and another guy to read the map and tell him what’s coming up next. More often than not, CMOs don’t get to hold the map anymore because they are too busy pushing buttons or turning the crank. Without someone dedicated to managing the map and calling out the next obstacles, even the best drivers will put their car in a ditch – or simply fall out of the race.

If you’re a high level exec – especially a CMO – take the time to take a step back once in a while. Remind yourself of the difference between strategy and tactics. Invest time, thought, and resources in a solid strategy. Hire people whose insights you trust, even if they aren’t experts in your particular industry. Surround yourself with people who can help you develop and implement tactics based on that strategy. Map out your process. Sketch it out. Model it visually. Then, once you’ve built a solid strategy and a framework of tactics that will help you bring that strategy to life, work your way backwards – from the end back to the beginning. (Hint: Do this at the “official” end of each tactic as well to see if you’re still on target. If the plan is still whole. Each time a tactic gets reviewed through a “post mortem,” go ahead and cover the tactics you already put to bed weeks or months earlier. Have someone do research on what little nuggets these tactics have left behind. See how what you find fits with the brand image you would like to enjoy.

Brand development work is about much more than marketing tactics and thanks to social networks, connectivity tools and the evolution of communication channels, your brand’s playground is now much larger than it used to be. Make sure you adjust your outlook accordingly.

😉 Have a great Wednesday.

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“Over 50% of consumers want greener, more natural housing cleaners, but only 5% actually purchase this category of product.”

– Jennifer Van der Meer –Former Wall Street Analyst, green activist and innovation strategist.

Fantastic piece on Core77 by Jennifer Van der Meer on the convergence of design, (customer) movements, product adoption and innovation against the backdrop of “green” product growth.

Here are some tidbits:

Recently, I was invited to participate as a Speaker at the Greener by Design conference in Alexandria, VA, with innovation culture and systems guru, Robert Shelton. Our talk focused on the encouraging shift towards more open models of innovation, where knowledge is shared both inside and outside a company’s walls to solve for the complex and daunting challenges that we face. This praise for the widening of knowledge networks emerged as a theme in many different conversations throughout the rest of the conference. More and more companies have begun to shift sustainability from public relations statements and corporate social responsibility promises to actual product development and marketing activity–a way to create real value. Facing up to climate change will require a major redesign in the way we bring things to market.

The caveat? Over 50% of consumers want greener, more natural housing cleaners, but only 5% actually purchase this category of product: consumers do not want tradeoffs. Clorox’s Green Works is one company that embraced this gap. How did the Green Works team aim to get past the 5%? When choosing household cleaners, green-leaning consumers are looking for proven efficacy, broad availability, comparable price, and a brand they know and trust. They’re not willing to settle for a product that performs less than a more eco-unfriendly alternative. Clorox Green Works accepted these constraints and delivered a natural product that passed blind performance tests–in partnership with the Sierra Club. Despite initial external skepticism that a brand like Clorox could succeed with a natural product offering, the good word got out and sales results have “far exceeded expectations,” according to Kohler.

The “no tradeoffs, no compromise” approach has served as a mantra in many companies and across industries when challenged with comprehensive green innovation. But there’s something missing in this stark consumer win-it-all equation: Consumers are not part of the conversation and they know it.

I have spent a good deal of time sitting down with these emerging green consumers and many themes come into to focus. When asked to take the time to give their real opinion about their lifestyle, they reveal an untapped desire to participate in the process to be more than just a stat about consumption and purchase behavior. When you move the conversation beyond price and performance benefits to engage people in the challenge of designing a green future, they want to do so much more than just vote with their wallet.

Unleashing the Innovator in Everyone
In fact, I found that once on the topic I could not get these consumers to stop thinking about innovation and the role they should play in the design process. One-on-one interviews, blog studies, and focus groups all inevitably turn into green therapy sessions. People wanted to dissect how they chose to eat their food, build their home, rely on transportation, raise their children, and create meaning in their lives. When the conversation shifted to how we could live more sustainably, the real ideas would begin to flow.

While it was personally gratifying to be a part of these discussions, I found that my role as a strategist and researcher had major limitations. It was costly to send someone like me around the world, burning jet fuel, to have deep conversations only to fold these insights into traditional briefs on brand and product development. At the same time, every industry started getting green religion and claiming a green message. But the old compartmentalize structure was still in place, which resulted in confusion all along the chain, the initial pleasure and fascination with the complexity of the problem devolved into fatigue amongst the newly green converts at the consumer and corporate level.

The roles of designers, product development specialists, and marketers should never have been as segmented and will never be again. Participation is the key to innovation…

I realized that the nature of this challenge requires constant, ongoing conversation between all the elements. Even a successful human-centered approach to the fuzzy front end completely drops off when we hit the conveyor belt process for product development. Ideas once sensibly vetted are suddenly forced to move lock step through the phases required for launch, and often get watered down in the process. This is in fact where the activity of greenwashing occurs–good intentions turn into skepticism, compromises, and incidental innovation. How do we create a system that provides more interaction, iteration and a feedback loop?

Read the rest of Jennifer’s piece here. It’s well worth the detour.

Have a great Monday everyone. 😉

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I love rants. Especially rants that relate to the world of business. And most especially rants about things that I myself have had to endure. I found this brilliant little bit of catharsis on adliterate.com this week, and since it is relevant to this blog’s theme, I thought I’d share.

Enjoy:

I hate brainstorms.

I hate running them, I hate contributing to them and I hate using them to solve problems.

They waste huge amounts of time and talent and they are no fucking good at delivering decent ideas.

And so six months ago I cleansed my professional life of this Trojan horse of mediocrity, favoring aggregated individual working or two person thinking sessions.

I suggest it’s time you gave them the boot too.

Death to the brainstorm. Long live great ideas.

The idea of the brainstorm was developed in the 1930s by Alex Faickney Osborne, the O in BBDO (which he founded in 1919 with his mates Batten, Barton and Durstine) and popularized in a book he wrote on the subject called Applied Imagination.

Osborne believed that when creating ideas quantity breeds quality – that if you can generate enough ideas somewhere in all the swill will be gold dust.

And so that’s what he built his brainstorming technique to do – deliver quantity over quality. Kind of like a Starbucks for creative thinking, you know once in a while they make a decent cup of coffee. Brainstormers are supposed to focus on quantity, not criticize other people’s ideas, be as ‘wild’ as they want and to combine and improve existing ideas.

These rules are so pervasive in contemporary business that even the cretins on The Apprentice seem to have learned them. And it is these rules that are at the heart of the ghastliness of the brainstorm experience . An experience in which too many people, with little ultimate responsibility for the quality of the outcome whitter on for far too long to the increasing frustration of the problem owner. Frustration manifestly worsened by the cult of facilitation.

A facilitators main task is to ensure that ‘everyone goes home with a balloon’ after a brainstorm – that they all feel that their pointless lives have been made somehow better by this semi cathartic experience and by the lovely little warm up games that they all played. Not to mention that they all got to vote on the most simplistic and incompetent ideas with a little stash of post it notes like some kind of mutant pin the tail on the donkey game. Facilitators like participants to have a nice time more than they like delivering actionable output.

But the thing that really pisses me off about this whole technique is that it brings an unwelcome democracy into the process of idea generation. Democracy is great as a way of ensuring that the will of the people is brought to bear in governing of their lives. But it pretty much ensures that blandness is the output we most readily associate with the brainstorm. In particular democracy leads to production blocking which is the loss of great ideas while people are waiting for their turn or having to listen to the irrelevant ramblings of other participants. And if that were not bad enough it ensures that the more polarizing and interesting ideas are lost at the evaluation stage as everyone showers the flip chart with their ‘stickies’ endorsing the familiar and feasible.

And there is no evidence they actually work beyond increasing morale, team building and other such airy fairy shenanigans. Productivity loss in an inherent part of the brainstorm approach (Mullen, Johnson and Salas, 1991; Diehl and Strobe, 1987) which results from evaluation apprehension, social loafing and the production blocking I mentioned above. Much of this research shows that brainstorms are in fact less effective than individuals working independently.

for my money the optimum number of people for an idea generation session is two with no facilitator hanging on. Two people that have a vested interest in the quality of the outcome and can switch seamlessly between divergent and convergent thinking until they get to the right idea which they both then build upon.

It is one of the reasons that Bernbach was a genius in putting art directors and copywriters together and a reason that strategists should also be paired, or paired with individual creatives.

And if you need any more convincing that brainstorms (and their euphemistic offspring like ‘thought showers’) are shit think about how easy it was to get people into the room last time you ran one. The only endevour people want to be involved in less is a four hour powerpoint presentation on the new phone system and they will make up the most outlandish excuses not to spend 3 hours in an overheated room with some idiot prancing around in front of a Nobo board for no apparent reason.

Sure have a brainstorm if you want to do a bit of team building and you don’t really care about the outcome.

If not pledge today that you will have nothing to do with the bastard offspring of the advertising industry. Refuse to run them, refuse to contribute to them and never ever find yourself voting on lackluster ideas with post it notes again.

Amen. And well put.

Have a great weekend, everyone. 😉

Photo by Chris Wray McCann

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