All innovation occurs in some kind of box. It’s always framed by some constraint, whether from the organization, the marketplace, or the consumer.
In some cases, those constraints can spark even greater creativity. They can provide focus and a tangible challenge to rally the team. Think about the famous scene in Apollo 13, when an engineer briefed the team trying to save the astronauts: “We’ve got to find a way to make this [square CSM LiOH canister] fit into the hole for this [round LEM canister] using nothing but that [spare parts on board the ship].”
Yet some constraints can preemptively hamper innovative thinking. It all depends on the size of the box.
I once attended a “blue sky ideation” for a 120 year old brand of baking flour. We started out with freeform brainstorming and quickly realized that we were limited in just about every dimension (no new SKUs, no new sizes, no new ingredients, etc.). An idea to package the flour in milk cartons to prevent spills when pouring was vetoed because we couldn’t change the line equipment.
It turned out that the “blue sky ideation” wasn’t “blue sky” at all. We weren’t allowed to step beyond the very small box that currently contained the brand. No wonder they hadn’t had a major innovation since 1979. With those constraints, why bother having an ideation at all?
As Innovation Professor Tim Kastelle wrote. “‘Think outside the box’ usually means ‘make a small jump that will move one edge of the box out just a tiny bit’.”
With the recent launch of Google+, marketers are excited to have a shiny new social network. Even though brands aren’t technically allowed on Google+ yet, some (like Ford Motor) are setting up personal profiles to get started and the marketing world is buzzing with possibilities.
When thinking about opportunities, it’s important for brands to remember that the message is more important than the media. The quality of the conversation is more important than the quality of the platform.
A couple months ago, I shared Andrew Blakeley’s “Social Consumer” experiment where he “Liked” every brand that asked him. His conclusion: “My week as a social consumer left me tired and confused. It left my Facebook newsfeed crammed with nonsense, to the point that I could scroll entire pages without seeing my friends.”
Even as marketers excitedly brainstorm how to reach consumers on a brand new social network, many consumers are tiring with how brands are reaching them on the current ones. An antisocial brand that uses social media is still an antisocial brand. A content strategy must come before a social network strategy.
The arrival of Google+ is a good time to revisit and reevaluate how our brands interact with consumers. It’s not enough for communication to be good for the brand. It has to be good for the consumer.
The Facebook “Like” land grab is in full swing. Fan acquisition is becoming an increasing part of many marketing plans, in the midst of a lot of debate on the value of Facebook fans. Different pundits are increasingly trying to pinpoint a universal value to fans.
As one observer summarized, “Your Facebook fans are worth exactly $1.07. No, they’re worth $3.60. Or maybe they’re worth $136.38. Unless they’re worthless.”
Setting a value per fan can lead to indiscriminate fan chasing. Many brands seem intent on amassing as many fans as possible, independent of the relevance of the fan. They’re treating fan accumulation as a media buy.
While fans can be bought, it’s important to remember than quality trumps quantity. And simply accumulating fans is only the start. Developing a relationship is far more valuable.
Hal Thomas posted some useful notes following an SXSW panel on the value of a Facebook fan: “The value of a Facebook fan is ZERO until you do something with them. There is no inherent value in amassing fans.”
The overlooked key to getting fans to like your brand is to be a brand worth liking.
Return On Indecision I spent a few days in Vermont last week with Eureka Ranch founder, Doug Hall. At one point, Doug said, “if you’re not meaningfully unique, you better be cheap”. Return on indecesion
Any idea that is “meaningfully unique” is inherently risky because by definition you can’t point to a precedent in the market. You have to step into the unknown, which is uncomfortable.
When many companies are faced with the unknown, they freeze. They spend hours debating potential scenarios and are incapable of making the go/no go decision. Sometimes this indecisive period lasts months or longer.
One of my previous managers was king of the debate club method of decision-making. His whole team would war-game scenarios for hours until our craniums hurt and still get no closer to launching our idea. Debate club would reconvene again and again, all while the clock ticked.
Instead of arguing from a conference room table, agree to the biggest areas of risk and frame a few experiments to learn about that risk. Get your idea or a form of your idea into the market as quickly as possible. As WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg said, “usage is like oxygen for ideas”. Once you’ve tested what you can test, bite the bullet and make the decision. There’s only so much you can learn by debating.
Companies measure project return by many dimensions: return on investment, return on capital, return on equity, etc. Return is not just a factor of what projects you invest in, but how you execute them.
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