My newest book, Three Threats to Brand Relevance is out this week in e-book form. It’s a shorter form book, and can be viewed as a supplement to my book released last year, Brand Relevance.
Brand Relevance explains that the only way to grow is to develop “must haves” through big innovation that will render competitors irrelevant. It is the path to winning. This new book shows the path to avoid losing. As markets become dynamic, there is a real risk that your brand will become irrelevant. The book explains the three threats to look out for and how to avoid them or deal with them. …Continue reading
If you haven’t heard of Coursera, maybe it’s time to get up to speed. It’s one of a growing breed of exciting brands intending to change the world. And they have a great chance of succeeding
They’re not focusing on “being green” and saving the environment. Nor are they adopting a cause that might fall under its corporate social responsibility program umbrella and is good for PR purposes and brand-building.
Their business is their cause. These brands provide products, services and solutions that are as important to their hearts as they are to their bottom lines. They’re applying disruptive innovation to create social change. They’re brands that stand for something more. And given the vast majority of consumers’ preference to do business with socially responsible concerns, they may have a leg up.
Coursera is obviously not the first to make their business their cause. Stalwarts like Patagonia, Tom’s, Sanuk and Ben & Jerry’s have all blazed the trail, as have more recent brands such as Kiva and Teach for America. These brands have strong moral compasses and are aligned with missions and visions. They’re consistently putting proof points on the board as to why their consumers should choose their brand over the Haagen-Dazs’ of the world when all else is equal (or close to it).
As I look at a few of these newer examples, I can’t help but caution them to truly look to the past to help them guide their future. Let’s look at two of these “rookies.” …Continue reading
On Friday March 22nd Richmond Virginia hosted its first annual TEDx event. With the theme of “Create” TEDxRVA was a huge success. Prophet’s Curator and Provocateur Andy Stefanovich hosted the event at the city’s former power plant building. Andy guided attendees through the speakers and engaged, excited and challenged them throughout the day. This TEDx event was the first to feature all the content on headphones worn by the attendees. Throughout the event participants had a choice to listen to Channel A that featured the speaker content as well as a Channel B that offered supplementary content produced by Prophet’s Josh Epperson.
Events like TEDxRVA challenge us to engage with our community and peers, both creatively and emotionally. While chock full of insights from history to entrepreneurial excellence, TEDxRVA also highlighted aspects of business thinking that can often be forgotten. …Continue reading
The word, innovation, is so over used that it’s almost lost all meaning. Yet, as with all aspects of business, innovation evolves. Innovation will remain the process by which newness comes into the world, but the how of innovation is in flux. New business landscapes, new technologies, and the wearing out of old models require us to reimage how we innovate.
When we think of innovation we might think of Silicon Valley, Google, Apple, and schools like Stanford University. We might imagine brilliance being created everyday in these places, and the fumes of great ideas spewing out the windows of well designed buildings. And in fact, these are accurate portrayals of what innovation can look like. But it’s not the full story. Many businesses have misaligned views on how to achieve innovation. Employee motivation and collaboration is essential to innovate, but often businesses lack authenticity in these efforts. Keeping up with what’s current gives you a read on what’s in vogue, yet you don’t need to follow the entire world on Twitter to change your business. Culture is important; however you don’t need to have an office full of free thinkers to come up with something new. And you certainly don’t need a Mac to think differently.
There are a lot of beliefs that pervade the world of innovation. However, many of these beliefs have the potential to hold us back. Some of these beliefs are, in fact, myths: great stories that fail the test of reality. If we’re not careful, these myths of innovation can become barriers to our growth. …Continue reading
The Importance of Storytelling in the Startup World
In the bustling Silicon Valley, startups are starting to consistently roll out disruptive innovations, making industry giants become simultaneously nervous and impressed. When it comes to creating their own brands, startups have the flexibility and the risk-taking mentality to push new frontiers that redefine category expectations. Yet, with limited resources and constant uncertainty, startups also turn to basic storytelling to create relevant, differentiated and enduring perception in the hearts and minds of their customers.
Within small companies, each decision maker wears multiple hats – it isn’t surprising that at startups such as Uber and Square, the marketing functions also incorporate PR and communications. A centralized, lean machine often ensures that a consistent brand story is being told. “We always want to communicate to our customers that we are a local advertising technology solution provider, and we’re fast, efficient and cheap,” says Asees Singh, the Director of PR for Paper G. “Telling a great story is central to our brand – if we’re singing a song, our brand would be the chorus that everyone remembers, and the individual executions are the rest of the song.” …Continue reading
Killing Giants is a provocative book written by Stephen Denny in which he outlines 10 strategies that have worked when small firms took on the giants in their industry – firms with marketing scale, distribution clout, buying power and strong brands. In looking at these strategies, it appeared to me that nearly all had a relevance interpretation. They were reframing a category or creating a new subcategory based on a “must have” that did not exist before, or they were affecting the visibility battle that is part of gaining relevance. Consider the following strategies:
Thin Ice Fight the giant where its size no longer matters. Boston Beer’s Samuel Adams brand (“not a beginner’s beer”) defined high-quality craft beer, a new subcategory in which Budweiser and the others were not relevant players.
Speed Bring innovations to the market faster than the bureaucratic big guys. Intuit used quantitative and qualitative customer insight information to continuously improve their Quicken and TurboTax products. As a result, they became exemplars and kept refining the subcategory definitions, making the challenge of becoming relevant a moving target. …Continue reading
Essentially, a woman named Sheena wore the same LDB (that’s “little black dress” in fashion parlance) for a full year – 365 days – as an exercise in sustainability and a fundraiser to support educating children living in Indian slums. It’s a project with the same spirit as Noah Scalin’s Skull-a-Day project and countless other I-must-do-x-task-for-365-days goals. But, for some reason, I gleaned fresh insights from Sheena’s project, specifically around the notions of constraints and optimism.
The author of the article I was reading said she was inspired not only by this woman’s ability to “live fashionably with less laundry” but also by the inherent truth that emerged from the project: “creativity thrives under constraint.” I think there’s something inspiring about knowing that constraints – whether a small budget, limited people, or a dwarfed amount of time – often produce the most interesting, unexpected results. Who would have known that a cap-sleeved, button down black dress could evolve into something appropriate for a Southern wedding and at the same time be the perfect outfit for running a marathon? Ironically, it seems constraints actually free us towards possibilities we didn’t know we were capable of achieving. For another example, check this out: MIT Students beat Nasa on Beer Budget. …Continue reading
I was driving in circles yesterday morning looking for a WiFi signal (feeling quite untethered and naked in the world) when I pulled up next to an Iron Mountain van. It occurred to me that Iron Mountain is a great example of sustaining innovation. It’s not as sexy as the transformational innovation people think of when considering Apple and Google but, according to HBR, 70% of all innovation is sustaining rather than adjacent or transformational.
We’ve all heard the stories about companies that failed to innovate as the world changed under their feet (who’s been to a Blockbuster lately?). This is the story of a company that understood its core value proposition rather than defining itself by its products. Because it was focused on its value proposition, it evolved with the market and has become a leader in its space.
Iron Mountain’s story is not well known story – but it is a true story. A guy buys a defunct mine to grow mushrooms on the land. The mushroom business declines, and he decides to use the mine for its next best purpose – as an atomic bomb shelter. Rather than shelter people he decides to use it protect information, which in the 1960s was all on paper and microfilm.
The company has evolved from a single mine purposed to protect paper and microfilm to an international company focused on electronic data. But it’s core value proposition has remained the same, regardless of how they fulfill it. This is the secret to their success. As the world evolved toward electronic data, Iron Mountain evolved by innovating new services to sustain its core value proposition. The founder is rumored to have once said, “this business will mushroom.” He was right. Thanks to unsexy sustaining innovation, Iron Mountain is now a $3B company, with 139,000 customers in 139 countries…including 95% of the Fortune 100.
People love hidden innovation stories. So think about using Iron Mountain the next time you need an innovation example. I guarantee your audience will prefer to hear about the story of a $3B mushroom farmer rather than another story about how Apple created the iPhone 5.
Unless your brand is one of the exceptions, it needs energy!
A brand that has insufficient energy has two potential liabilities. First, it will lack visibility and it will no longer be amongst those that come to mind when considering a purchase. It will be lost in the noise of the environment and no longer be relevant. Second, and perhaps worse, it will see declines in key image items such as perceived quality and trust and, in addition, have its ability to drive differentiation and loyalty degraded. There is disturbing evidence to back up these assertions.
The Y&R Brand Asset Valuator (BAV) database includes more than 38,000 brands measured on over 75 metrics for over more than 40 countries, from 1993 to the present. The Brand Bubble by John Gerzema and Ed Lebar reports findings from the BAV database that show brand equities (measured by trustworthiness, esteem, perceived quality and awareness) have been falling sharply over the years. For example, over the span of 12 years, trustworthiness dropped nearly 50 percent, esteem fell by 12 percent, brand quality perceptions fell by 24 percent, and remarkably, even awareness fell by 24 percent. This fall continued, even accelerated, after the financial shock of 2008.
Most companies will not readily think about geographic expansion as innovation. It’s not like we are creating something new, right? We’re just taking what we do and moving it to a different place. Even Doblin’s infamous 10 Types fails to consider geographic expansion as innovation. If something like adopting an existing skin care product for the teen market in the US (i.e. – taking an existing product to a new consumer) can be considered innovation, then adopting an entire value proposition for a new set of consumers in China should also qualify as innovation. …Continue reading