Posted tagged ‘Creativity’

Trends that You Should Worry About…

January 1, 2010

Lately, I have been “heads down” more than ever working with companies on redefining their strategies. In these conversations, I am often asked what surprises me the most. Here are a few observations.

The biggest surprise to me has been the pace at which whole industries have begun to disappear. As fast as one charts the list, another one needs to be added. The postal service, newspaper and magazine publishing, television, and retail stores are just a few.

Last week, I went into a high end department store to buy a present for a newly engaged couple. I went to the registry and met with the manager. She told me that 80% of the gifts for a couple is now purchased on line. This is good news for the retailer because it can pay less commission, as there is no sales rep involved in the purchasing transaction.

What was shocking to me was that manager told me that when an item is returned to the store, it gets applied as a negative sale to her commission. She is running harder just to stay in place. And the store is comfortable making her role obsolete.

Another recent trend that I find fascinating is the increasing need to create engines as opposed to creating businesses. Zappos is a great illustration of this process done well.

Zappos had become an Internet business legend, so to speak, for its ability to sell footwear. Its use of social media to promote and service its business is very well known.

In July, Amazon announced its intention to purchase Zappos. The deal closed in November.

Today, less than two months later, Zappos has transformed itself into a clothing site. The engine that it has designed and the practices that it has implemented are being used to allow it to enter a whole other segment of the clothing industry.

What does all this mean to you?

For starters, if you have been doing business in a traditional way, start rethinking your business model because your next competitor can come from anywhere.

Lesson 3: Know Your Segment, Know Your Category

March 27, 2009

Since Carl had been successful in dramatizing the importance of research, analysis and creativity, the next logical step was to learn how best to perform this activity. To discover more about these techniques, I turned to Suzy who has been a Senior Vice President for many, many years at a global, multinational advertising agency.

Suzy began our conversation by emphasizing the importance of segmentation. Today, more than ever, it is important to segment finely. She explained that selling to someone who loves to create in the kitchen is simply not good enough. For what types of dishes are they specialists? Are they novices or “hard-core” pros at what they do? Are they cooks or bakers?

Once a segment has been defined, you can begin to define the key opinion leaders (KOLs). Inventing the future is always a unique challenge so asking the hard-core baker what would make things easier for them is sometimes not the best way to learn what to invent. Suzy recommended that when interviewing these KOLs, one should try to get them to complain. Ask them what frustrates them in the process and delve deeply. (Is it the rolling pin? The surface?) These types of questions can create great opportunities.

We began to explore more deeply the other elements that go into understanding the target market segment. Suzy explained that a meaningful market research program will discuss the sentimental and emotional aspects that are so integral  to the design and marketing of the product.

Suzy classified this effort in the context of ethnography. Ethnography is founded on the idea that a system’s properties cannot necessarily be accurately understood independently of each other. Context is decisive and so one often needs direct, first-hand observation of daily behavior. This may lead to a discussion about the role of the family and the meaning of home. Such a process may also include participant observation. Sometimes this involves conversations with different levels of formality such as small talk to long in-depth interviews.

In our circumstance, this might mean going into several homes to observe how a housewares product is being used and in what context. While quantitative research can provide data, this type of research creates knowledge founded on intimacy, the connection between the mind and the heart and the way it is manifested in behavior. (These types of interviews are sometimes videotaped and used in campaigns to convince retailers to carry a product because of its emotional value to the consumer.)

All of this knowledge is valuable in so many contexts but none may be more important than this.

Understanding your product and the context within which it is valued allows you to know your product category and once you do, you can develop line extensions across multiple dimensions such as the target segment or whether your product is a time saver, problem solver or part of a suite of solutions that integrate with one another.

When you are very clear about this aspect, you are now ready to begin to build your consumer franchise…which will be the subject of our next post.

Lesson 2: The Only Way to Fight the Tyranny of Kings is with Creativity

March 23, 2009

Carl had exposed an interesting point to consider. If indeed this situation had occurred before, there probably would be some lessons to be learned in how these challenges were met in the past.

The solution, he explained, lies in creating a consumer franchise, a brand that is powerful enough to necessitate that the retailers seek your product out and put you in a position where negotiation is from strength. In consumer franchising, the goal is to communicate distinctive brand attributes, develop and reinforce brand identity that is consistent with the image of the brand, build long-term brand preference, encourage repeat purchase and long-term patronage, and engage active consumer involvement.

Put simply, if you are operating in a commodity category, you must bring something unique to the party.

There is, however, significant complexity in our particular challenge. In the housewares industry, there is a low frequency of purchasing items, that is, unlike other items, people do not purchase them again and again or very often. This attribute does not allow for the investment of heavy marketing dollars to create the brand.

Given that constraint, how can a housewares company develop their brand?

According to Carl, one of the most important elements is communication at the point of purchase. There are many factors, including packaging and color that can make the difference in getting consumers to try a product. He referred to this as the “sell-in” effort. (More definitively speaking, sell-in typically means how well one has been able to get the product into stores. Sell-through refers to how well the stores have been able to get the product into the hands of consumers.)

To be successful here, one must apply the greatest levels of creativity. He then offered a few insightful examples.

To sell a purse mirror for women, his company developed an end of aisle spinner that had mirrors placed on all sides. It proved effective because his target market, women who wanted to have a mirror available at all times to see how they were presenting themselves, would catch their reflection as they passed the display. They would stop, pause, and then notice the purse mirrors. Getting them to notice the product was the key first step in making the sale.

With corn brooms, his company took the unusual step of displaying it upside down, which was not how brooms were usually displayed, and again, would catch the attention of the consumer. By adding a distinctive angle to the handle, the product was further distinguished.

To achieve these distinctions and to create a unique selling proposition, one must look at each item separately and develop the element that makes it unique and impactful.  Should the design be simple? Can you “dress it in a tuxedo” and make it feel more upscale? What would make the difference to the consumer?

This means that inventing the product is only the beginning of the effort. The next step is to dissect the use of the product.

  • Visit stores and analyze how comparable products are displayed.
  • Who buys them?
  • Which displays and packages made the person stop?
  • Define the profile of the person who stopped at the display.
  • Ask them what caused them to stop.
  • Find out the process that they went through in making the buying decision.
  • Once the product has been bought, ask them why.
  • Be curious and creative in discovering why your products are worth buying.

Carl closed our discussion with a very interesting story.

A long time ago, Carl’s team was tasked with the responsibility of selling toothbrushes. The division had been losing significant money. To learn more about his targeted consumers’ motivations, Carl arranged for a focus group with a local dental clinic. The focus group members were asked why they were choosing certain toothbrushes and the answers he received were about the size of the brush head (husbands had larger mouths than wives and children required smaller toothbrush surfaces) and that some brushes were harder than others.

Valuable information…

The participants were then led into a room and on the wall of the room was a display of every possible toothbrush on the market at that time. The participants were then told that as a reward, they could select toothbrushes for their families.

After selecting their toothbrush reward, the participants were then led into another room and asked why they had selected these particular toothbrushes.

Their answer most often…color!

It seems that at this particular time there were only four colors available in the toothbrush industry. Carl and his team learned that even though it was never mentioned as a factor in the focus groups, color was deemed to be the most important attribute. Armed with this information, his team began to produce toothbrushes in 24 colors! The net result the product, which was a losing venture a year earlier, became a source of substantial profitable revenue within a year.

Carl had illustrated his point – creativity and research on an item by item basis was critical in establishing a brand and challenging leverage.

Preparing a Strategy: So Much More Than a Task

September 2, 2008

Preparing a strategy is not a task. It is also not a deliverable, such as a document or a book.

When a strategy has been created and delivered, it will alter an organization’s focus, and allow its leaders to determine what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and who will be responsible for key elements of the strategic program. A strategy is core to an organization’s identity and a roadmap for creating its future.

Not surprisingly, it is the dialogue and the exchange of ideas that really matters. These ideas, filtered by facts and perceptions and synthesized by a healthy debate, will produce a worthwhile result.

In order to create a well rounded, comprehensive approach, one needs many different perspectives represented in the room. Each person will bring her / his talents, experiences, personal marketing strengths and weaknesses, and biases into the discussions.

The first step in the process is then to inventory the talents and perspectives, and then determine who needs to be added to the conversation to compensate for any weaknesses without compromising strengths. In essence, the intention is to determine what we “know we don’t know.”

There are ten perspectives that should be included when we plan our strategy. They may be sufficiently present in a few people or they may require a body of fifteen, twenty, or more.

1)       Vision. Who has an ability to envision a new enterprise and how it will be marketed?

2)       Creativity. Who can see and avoid conventional approaches and envision and design the unconventional?

3)       Sense of timing. Who understands sequencing and timing? Who can implement steps that will achieve the desired result? The “whens” are as important as the “whats.” This would include choreographing the approach.

4)       Ability to spot key trends. Who understands current social, cultural, and political trends? These are NOT trends within the industry. Rather they are trends in our society at large.

5)       Penchant for details. Execution, execution, execution… Who is the master of details?

6)       Ability to change. Who sees trends within the marketplace and can lead the organization to make the necessary adjustments?

7)       A long-term viewpoint. Who takes the long view? Who’s looking to the future? While successful selling looks short-term, in the here and now, successful marketing requires one to look three to five years out. A completely sales-oriented personality will often have a problem putting together a marketing plan as s/he usually lives in a short-term, tactical world.

8)       Focus. Who can maintain her / his concentration on the steps required to move from the beginning to the end? Entrepreneurs are often tempted to go after more markets than they should. Because it is so difficult to understand a single market well, understanding several well enough to succeed is often impossible. Highly focused entrepreneurs tend to go after markets sequentially.

9)       Passion. Who is the product or service evangelizer? Who feels strongly about your products or services and can express how they will make a difference to our customers? Who believes in our goods and services and their value? Who enrolls others in that excitement?

10)    A technology and information orientation. Who understands technology and information systems? This person must understand what systems can be developed that will have an impact on the organization. Successful marketing increasingly depends on the leader’s ability to make effective use of marketing data and information.

With the right perspectives present, the likelihood of the success of your strategy will grow exponentially.


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