Tag Archives: Vision

Mapping The Cost Of Innovation

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Many companies claim that they place an emphasis on innovation – and to a point, they are delivering – but when it comes specifically to marketing and buzz generation, companies set themselves up to fail in the innovation category.

Sure.  They may execute a campaign that utilizes a new technology or create a video that goes viral and generates an insane amount of views. They might even develop a marketing product that revolutionizes the industry or makes use of an existing product in ways nobody thought of before. But when it really comes down to it, most companies fail when bringing innovation to their marketing because they don’t plan or spend in the right way that lends to cost-savings down the road. Or, even worse, the execution doesn’t align with their strategy, so it hits the intended consumers like a thud.

Many innovative marketing products could be better if they were not treated as the end-all product that is oft copied, but as something that builds upon itself. Innovation done correctly is built with future iterations in mind so that products and development can be built on or added on cost-effectively. Too often, those new product are developed for one execution and then, upon its success, they do not allow for augmentation – forcing companies and their vendors to start from scratch.

Numerous factors lead to innovation that is not cost-effective.  Sometimes, due to a lack of vision or strategic planning.  Others might be due to a company’s lack of determination in supporting ongoing innovation expenditures. And then sometimes, products just don’t work out. All of those factors, are reasonable explanations for the waste of money but they don’t need to be. It really comes down to the ability to have long-term vision and communicate objectives well.

With the right executives supporting the long-term innovation play – where a specific near-term ROI may not happen – the environment can be ripe for marketing success for quarters and years to come.

Here’s how you do it — think more than one step ahead. Auto manufacturers build concept cars with the full knowledge that the car as a whole might not make it to the dealer, but components like auto-parking most likely will.  With that vision toward the future derivatives, even an unsuccessful campaign is not a waste of money. Be thinking of what components might be re-used in the future and make sure your team and vendors build those elements accordingly.

Granted, some form of smoke and mirrors is a component of your innovation process – and not in a devious way – you might think of innovation as putting the cart before the horse.  What it does is build an environment of hype that points to a vision of what the future could be. Be prepared to create assets that just show off what you are planning to do in order to effectively communicate expectations within the company. Utilize communication and spin control. If innovation is treated solely as a magic force that nobody has insight into, it is doomed to fail in the long run.  Even the major technology companies that have super-secret labs share some of their developments internally and sometimes, even externally. Maintaining to others that you are doing really cool things under a shroud of mystery will only lead to further questions on the money that’s being spent. Conversely, communicating too much without conveying the ultimate vision can be almost as damaging.

To the finance types, developing key KPIs to measure your success is a necessary component. Innovation is not an always-win proposition. You may not find huge marketing numbers to point to a winner. Come up with those elements that prove its working.  Is it money saved on future campaigns?  Is it press coverage of your marketing products? Is it related to time-to-market for future products? Is it tied to sales? Brand recognition? Whatever it is, make sure that is known to your team and management. Without those clearly understood KPIs, you’re effectively spending a lot of money on just an illusion…

When all is said and done, there needs to be an environment or atmosphere that welcomes trial and error. Intrinsically, there is no other undertaking that comes across so much success and failure with few traditional methods of measuring both. It is those corporations and organizations that truly embrace innovation (and not just tout that they are innovative) who most consistently bring successful innovations to market. Sometimes innovation can seem just outside your grasp (as an individual or an organization) but with vision, communication and execution, it will come back x-fold in marketing and revenue streams you might not have even considered at the onset.

Navigating The Cost Of Innovation

It’s a new year and we are all on the continued lookout for things new and innovative. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2014) kicks off every year with many promises of innovation and they often deliver. Walking those halls provides a course in one way to look at innovation – which we’ll delve further into later. Many companies claim that they place an emphasis on innovation – and to a point, they are delivering – but when it comes specifically to marketing and buzz generation, companies set themselves up to fail in the innovation category.

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Sure.  They may execute a campaign that utilizes a new technology or create a video that goes viral and generates an insane amount of views. They might even develop marketing product that revolutionizes the industry or makes use of an existing product in ways nobody thought of before. But when it really comes down to it, most companies fail when bringing innovation to their marketing because they don’t plan or spend in the right way that lends to cost-savings down the road.

It would seem clear in the writings on this blog that I am all for marketing innovation and have pulled off some executions that I am quite proud of.  The buzz and impressions they generated were phenomenal and have often brought on follow-up coverage in the press. But they could have been better.  Many innovative marketing products could be better if they were not treated as the end-all product that is oft copied, but as something that builds upon itself.

Innovation done correctly is built with future iterations in mind so that products and development can be built on or added on cost-effectively. Too often, those new product are developed for one execution and then, upon its success, they do not allow for augmentation – forcing companies and their vendors to start from scratch.

Numerous factors lead to innovation that is not cost-effective.  Sometimes, it is due to a lack of vision or strategic planning – you were only looking to do this one creative vision and didn’t think how it could be used or grown beyond that.  Others, it might be due to a company’s determination to support ongoing innovation expenditures. And then sometimes, products just don’t work out.

All of those factors, and more, are reasonable explanations for the waste of money but they don’t need to be.

It really comes down to the ability to have the long-term vision and communicate objectives well. With the right executives supporting the long-term innovation play – where a specific near-term ROI may not happen – the environment can be ripe for marketing success for quarters and years to come.

Here’s how you do it.

Again, think more than one step ahead. Auto manufacturers build concept cars with the full knowledge that the car as a whole might not make it to the dealer, but components like auto-parking most likely will.  With that vision toward the future derivatives, even an unsuccessful campaign is not a waste of money. Be thinking of what components might be re-used in the future and make sure your team and vendors build those elements accordingly.

You need smoke and mirrors to be a component of your innovation process – and not in a devious way. Going back to the CES reference, you might think of innovation as putting the cart before the horse.  What might surprise many is that a lot of the hyper-cool technologies shown at CES are not real or ready for prime-time. Sometimes features are faked in to prove the concept. Other instances show content that is not optimal or canned to showcase a technology. An example of this is the content that is shown on 4K monitors.  No broadcaster is filming in 4K yet and they started showing those monitors two years ago with dummy content to show clarity. What they did was build an environment of hype that pointed to a vision of what the future could be – with no true revenue stream to show for it immediately. Be prepared to create assets that just show off what you are planning to do in order to effectively communicate expectations within the company.

Utilize communication and spin control. If innovation is treated solely as a magic force that nobody has insight into, it is doomed to fail in the long run.  Even the major technology companies that have super-secret labs share some of their developments internally and sometimes, even externally. Maintaining to others that you are doing really cool things under a shroud of mystery will only lead to further questions on the money that’s being spent. Conversely, communicating too much without conveying the ultimate vision can be almost as damaging.

Develop key KPIs to measure your success. Innovation is not an always win proposition. You may not find huge marketing numbers to point to a winner. Come up with those elements that prove its working.  Is it money saved on future campaigns?  Is it press coverage of your marketing products? Is it related to time-to-market for future products? Is it tied to sales? Brand recognition? Whatever it is, make sure that is known to your team and management. Without those clearly understood KPIs, you’re effectively spending a lot of money on illusion…

When all is said and done, there needs to be an environment or atmosphere that welcomes trial and error. Intrinsically, there is no other undertaking that comes across so much success and failure with few traditional methods of measuring both. It is those corporations and organizations that truly embrace innovation (and not just tout that they are innovative) who most consistently bring successful innovations to market.

Sometimes innovation can seem just outside your grasp (as an individual or an organization) but with vision, communication and execution, it will come back x-fold in marketing and anywhere else.

The Growing Pains Of Vision

Last week, NPR ran a piece on the challenges that JC Penney is facing while they shift the way they do business under (relatively) new CEO, Ron Johnson. While listening, it brought to mind some of the factors we often deal with when working with clients, management, and teams to institute new programs, processes and functions. Regardless of vision or how great we believe that change will be in the name of growth or optimization, those growing pains cannot be overlooked in either the planning or the execution.

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Regardless of how strong your vision is, the ability to convey that vision to all participants is paramount. In some cases, it even requires that solutions for bypassing participant buy-in should they can not see what the company is trying to do. But, you’ve got to make sure the vision is realistic – and without taking a moment to consider any move from most sides is a recipe for disaster.

In the case of JC Penney, we don’t know how things will play out in the end.  But, the NPR report highlights how the regular JC Penney customers were less than thrilled.  The environment that was created for those consumers was one that they connected with emotionally – to the point you would think they’ve lost a loved one when talking about how it used to be. Though sales were down 30% in Q4 ’12 from ’11, could that be tied to disgruntled regulars?  Or, is it tied to the pains of shifting from one client type to another? By reading the comments below the NPR report, you can see there are enough counter examples pointing to the change being positive for JC Penney.

Recent work with one of my clients has brought the same challenge to light.  How do you bring vision, instill new processes and get buy-in from the people who are key to turning those changes into company success.  Interestingly, the most important people to get buy-in from are not the C-Levels (though they do give the approval on the spend) – it is the people who will be carrying out these new processes. A broken record comes to mind when thinking about how much communication is required to convey what you are intending to do.

Sometimes the illustration of the new versus the old can offend those who are fine with the way that might not be truly effective – so you can’t just rely on illustrating the benefits in light of the situation they are now in. The element of democracy that is prevalent in the workforce these days requires something akin to a PR campaign just to put those new processes in place. Again, you can have the strongest vision and product in place, but if there’s no buy-in, you’ve wasted time and resources. Even with the installation of automated processes, if there’s a human that needs to interact with that process, you need to negotiate and guide them through those growing pains.

Hopefully, JC Penney and Johnson’s team will be given the leeway to work this transition through. Far too many changes are abandoned at the first glimmer of failure. But as with any challenge, there is a sliver of failure, you’ve just got to push through smartly. Because, ultimately, a smart vision and strategic growth always has growing pains as a byproduct. You’ve just got to guide that pain into profit and not breakage.

Lacking Vision and Strategy, Everyone Witnessed the Hemmorhaging While Waiting For Others To Act

On the heels of Advertising Week and all of the feel-good excitement it generates, the feeling intensified that there’s too much mis-directed emphasis in digital media.  The reasons for this could be due to digital media’s “youth,” but I’m worried it’s based more on lack of vision or creativity. Far too often, the take-aways from large events or provider presentations are mired in technical/representational capabilities.  The buzz analysis emphasizes media’s reach via platforms, pushes, networks and the like. But reach and placement opportunity is only part of the equation – the thing that’s too often left out of the mix is how they could fit with a brand’s strategy.  No matter how cool the technology is or how many eyeballs are reached, if there’s not a clear plan for how the story connects with the eyeballs emotionally or what the end-user will do with this new-found information, all that advertisers are doing is filling pipeline just because it is there.

Image from Advertising Week 2012
(Courtesy of Hunt Mobile)

While we can focus on any part of the media environment to illustrate this, we can look at mobile. Yesterday I came across two pieces online to help convey the concern – CMO Council’s report on companies’ relationship with Mobile and David Gwozdz’ (CEO of Mojiva – a major global player in mobile advertising) recap of Advertising Week in the Huffington Post.

First off, I really like Mojiva and what they are able to do in the mobile space in many global markets via great targeting and interesting ad formats.  As such, I was interested in Gwozdz’ take on the conference.  Near the top of his recap, he astutely conveys the conference’s permeating message that “technology has to work collaboratively with creative,” but then numbers his top things heard/learned at the conference and all of them relate to mechanics.  They are definitely important, but what is missing are the opportunities to connect creatively and what needs to happen strategically to be able to count mobile as a success.  He does end on the note that what he listed (and the conference in general) was just a first step and I agree.

The concern is that judgements are being made by CMOs and other C-Level executives relating to mobile based on the possibilities, platforms and metrics, but those don’t always relate to any true strategies or even opportunities to genuinely connect in ways that are right for the medium. As with any new medium, it is a challenge to shift people to do things in ways they had not previously. The thing is, we should have learned from our growing pains with the advent of “New Media” years ago.  Everything was mentioned about the mechanics of reaching consumers but it was all in the jargon of other forms of media. Nobody was formulating campaigns to leverage the platform and its capabilities.  In mobile, there is a lot to be learned, but that learning curve will be longer as we try to just fill the hole with something that worked for other platforms.  Again, as we’ve learned with online advertising — not only do the same rules not apply, they keep evolving.

The one thing that can remain consistent regardless of platform is clear and cohesive strategy – which brings us to the report published by the CMO Council.

The survey of  250 companies’ chief marketer found that there is a general struggle with mobile.  Only 8% felt that they had advanced capabilities in the mobile channel.  The thing that struck me is — 26% of the respondents are currently building mobile apps and an extra 17% stated that they have a “good level” of competence in mobile marketing — yet only 16% currently have a mobile strategy in place. Of the 43% delving in mobile, only 16% bothered to devise a strategy first?

Once that caveat was established, it didn’t really matter that 43% of the respondents were unimpressed with their results in mobile or the fact that 69% are most interested in social media ads with 54% hot on paid media in mobile. It’s all irrelevant when there is no real strategy to base it on – it reverts back to the shiny object factor and executives’ chase after the hottest new thing.

This obviously doesn’t just relate to mobile media – it relates to every facet of the marketing puzzle. If companies skimp on the foundation of establishing a strategy and just pay for marketing based on what sounds cool or what is the shiny object du jour, there will certainly be a lot of money wasted.

For the sake of all media – publishers, technology firms, brands, planners and agencies need to step up and fully increase their chops in the strategy and storytelling departments.  It needs to be a collaborative process.  Planners can’t absolve themselves of all creative responsibility. Brands can’t leave it to agencies to fully develop product strategies. Technology firms and publishers can’t figure that clients will easily connect the dots between the ways the shiny object could connect correctly with the consumer. A clear and consistent strategy enables all the parties to up their game and create successful campaigns. That strong strategy also allows others to gain insight into the original vision.

For all players, if you’re not going to formulate a dynamic strategy that energizes the brand, enables those working on it and allows for format flexibility, all you’ll be left with is a bunch of data that doesn’t mean much and even more opportunity (costs/revenue) flowing out the door.

While it sort of makes sense for publishers and technologists to emphasize mechanics, the lack of marketing vision creates an obstacle that doesn’t need to be there. It places too much burden on the clients to figure out how the platform helps them. Conversely, marketers need to build the marketing and media strategy that provide the vision to immediately determine whether a technology or platform works or not.  If they don’t fit your strategy, there’s no easier way to move along until you find just the right platform for connecting with your consumers.

Until the emphasis on strategy and the vision it helps to convey becomes commonplace within companies of all kinds, resources will continue to be hemmorhaged with diminishing chances for ROI.

Linsanity Proves To Be A Vision For Business

The buzz this weekend has been all about Jeremy Lin. Whitney Houston’s death might have taken a little bit away, but even those in the music business were talking about Lin.  If you don’t know who he is, you’re not that much more out of the loop than almost everybody on the plan prior to last weekend. Jeremy Lin was a basketball player who did not get awarded any scholarships to play ball in college and was undrafted by any NBA team.  Even with that, he had spent some time warming the benches of the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets before being called up to warm the bench of the New York Knicks.  Luckily for Lin – and all the rest of us – the Knicks were suffering with key injuries and no answer at the point guard position and decided to give Lin the chance to play more minutes than he could have dreamed of.  Since playing well in the backup minutes of that first game (that he was key in winning), he has started the last four games for the Knicks and not only helped lead them to all wins, but he has done so by scoring the most points in the first four starts of his career than anyone since the mid-70s.  There was some excitement after the first couple of games, but the real buzz and excitement came when he lit up the perennial powers of the Los Angeles Lakers and their uber-star, Kobe Bryant, with a game leading 38 points. Needless to say, this is not a sports blog, but there are many take-aways from this chain of events that can help any company in staffing, marketing, innovation and business itself.

(Chris Chambers/Getty Images)

Dan LeBatard of the Miami Herald wrote a good piece dissecting some of the many elements make this story shocking.  Where basketball and scouting are so developed it is almost a science, how is it possible that this young guy was able to do what he has done under such circumstances? While it has only been a few games and he most likely will come back down to Earth at some point, most teams would be happy to have even half of his scoring production and natural leadership on their team. But, when you think about it, this could not have happened with just any team.  The fact that the Knicks were doing so poorly that they would take a chance on Lin added to the fact that they are in a major market, are key to this being as big of a story as it is.

The Miami Heat have a Rookie, Norris Cole, who shows signs of greatness at point guard, but the team has three healthy superstars, so his play can be limited and he can hopefully grow into something phenomenal. Jeremy Lin first played for his hometown Golden State Warriors and, though he received applause whenever he got on the court, nobody knew about him outside of the Bay area – the market was just too small to make a difference.

So, again, what does this have to do with marketing, staffing, innovation or business? There are a number of points to focus on:

  • Stepping Up – Jeremy Lin obviously worked hard to even get to a place where he would have the possibility of playing.  In the game of sports, players have to be ready because their opportunity can come at any time.  While there are more politics in play in business, when that opportunity arises for us to step up, we’ve got to show our true mettle.  Lin walked through the door when it was opened and he made the best out of it. Some people choose not to walk through the door when it is opened.  The difference between those who do and those who don’t is remarkable.
  • Staffing – We know there are stereotypes at play when it comes to hiring.  In the least, we’ve got to do what we can on an individual basis to move beyond that.  It is definitely hard when many recruiters are only looking for the sure thing, but there are many hidden gems that are missed because the algorithm didn’t pick them up in an HR application or the recruiter just didn’t have the knowledge base to get what was really needed.  It’s too bad that there’s not a hiring solution that mimics online dating services that have been so successful.  Regardless, those talent gems can come from anywhere and everywhere.
  • Resourcefulness – Companies too often focus on what they can’t do because of size or vertical.  What really matters is being true to oneself and have the confidence to move forward in a way that fits within the parameters of the product or vision.  There are so many options for making a positive splash using the tools that are already available.
  • Opportunity – By knowing what your business realities are and recognizing what can be done to optimize what you already maintain by way of product, staff, timing or location, you can best leverage any opportunity to do something extraordinary for your business.  Too often, companies look at their revenues flattening or shrinking and start battening down the hatches and wait for an economic upturn.  That doesn’t always seem to be the best choice.  It’s those down times that can lead to the biggest opportunities for the company – perhaps in ways you’ve never imagined.  Had the Knicks coach not taken a chance and put Lin in the game while then creating specific plays for the personnel he had on the court, we might not be buzzing about Linsanity.
  • Innovation – Perhaps it’s not about real change, just innovated approaches to what you’ve been doing for years. Once you start repeating the known and stop looking for ways to improve – whether your business is doing well or poorly – it’s almost like your company is doomed.  In this model, Lin isn’t doing anything different from what a true point guard should be doing. But, by placing someone whom nobody thought would be more than a bench-warmer and his energy in the line-up, everybody’s game is raising up a notch and the crowds are loving it.
  • Success Breeds Success – Sadly, I have seen clients and other companies feel that they have hit their goals and call it a year rather than harnessing that success to build other things.  The Linsanity is an example of success being harnessed to grow other things.  Because of his popularity, the Timberwolves had to sell out their standing room only tickets because of the demand when the Knicks played there this weekend.  The NBA is getting a push because of it and, certainly, the Knicks are working the angle.  The biggest mistake you can make is when you let a success remain in its own vacuum and not look to leverage it.

There’s going to be much more to learn from Linsanity and everything that surrounds it as time moves on.  Hopefully, he continues his success once the two superstars return to the team. And, hopefully whatever is learned by this helps companies flourish beyond what they thought was possible – through opening eyes up to what is not imminently seen.