New opportunities, new challenges

As I look back over the past 15+ years I have been working within the Internet space, I never could have predicted the changes that have come about as a result of this amazing technology. From the first early days of just trying to get connected using SLIP/PPP, to the birth of multimedia content and now the rise of the social web, I feel really blessed to have contributed, even in small way, to how the Internet has changed the world.

Over that time, I have learned a ton! From innovative product and service concepts, to how brands are engaging customers, the pace of change has been incredibly invigorating. In my practice, I have focused on Customer Experience and Innovation with a particular emphasis on the social web. I’ve tried to delve into not only social media tools, but how attitudes have changed within companies as they look at how their business fundamentally interacts with their customers.

I began my company with the goal of “bringing companies closer to customers.” And I like to think that I’ve been able to do that by understanding our clients’ objectives and constructing solutions that help them more effectively interact with their internal and external stakeholders.

But what do you do when you are given a fantastic opportunity to work with a terrifically talented and hard-working team at a great company? As hard as it is to leave what I am doing now, I feel the time is right for me to join the Corporate Development team at LoyaltyOne (AirMiles). This move makes perfect sense for me at this time; I don’t feel that I am leaving anything behind because I am taking all the skills and resources I’ve developed and applying them to a new set of challenges.

At this stage, I won’t be taking on additional clients or projects, but I will, of course, remain engaged in this industry and involved in all the pioneering groups that continue to move it forward. And, I promise to continue to learn and contribute with everyone who has made this medium the great, ongoing experiment in communication and interaction.

Starbucks VIA instant coffee taste test

starbucks

Starbucks recently introduced a new line of instant coffee that they claim is as good as their regular ground coffee. To prove it, they are conducting blind taste tests in store head-to-head with their Pike’s Peak blend to show customers that it can stand up to the most discerning coffee palate.

So yesterday when I was in Starbucks for a meeting, I stepped up to the plate – would I be able to tell the difference? The pressure mounted as the server poured both samples into the small cups. As I tasted both the reality set in – I haven’t had instant coffee in over 20 years! It took Starbucks’ claim that their instant coffee was significantly better than what was on the market to at least get me to try. They claim:

“The magic is in a proprietary, all-natural process that we spent years perfecting. We microgrind the coffee in a way that preserves all of their essential oils and flavor. No other coffee company takes this step, and it makes all the difference.”

I confess that I had seen this statement before I took the test: in fact, without seeing that they were doing something different, I probably would never have even bothered to try it. But I saw numerous posts on it on Twitter so I decided to see if the claims were true.

But what got me thinking was why Starbucks would even bother? For the past 20 years they have been trying to get us into the store for an “experience” centered around premium priced drinks. Does instant give them additional credibility in the home/office or does it take away from the experience they are trying to create in the store? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this new direction!

By the way, I was able to pick out the instant. It tasted pretty good almost like french press coffee but will I be buying a package? Probably not, when it only takes me a minute more to make a good pot of coffee using the press.

10 things to remember for social media success

How many Fortune 1000 companies have a Social Media Strategy? Better yet, how many of those will fail in the next year? These are questions worth asking as the future success of these campaigns depends on separating the buzz from what provides lasting value to brands.
Along these lines we wanted to share what we’ve been hearing lately from our clients. They have heard that their competition is using Social Media and are interested in the potential, but during these times they are coming back to the same question: “How does Social Media help me: grow my business/increase sales/cut costs?”
Of course this is eminently justifiable as the benefits have to be tangible and understandable to executives in order to get approval to move ahead in concert with other initiatives that are currently underway.
Here’s what we have learned (so far):

  1. Need buy in from the top. There will likely not be the same level of participation from the top but with the right set of guidelines, executives can see that participation from company staff can actually help build customer engagement with the brand.
  2. Need an internal culture to support it. Executives must understand that the conversation about their brand and products is taking place whether or not they participate. Lack of participation is not going to stop conversations from happening and may in fact lead to missed opportunities to shape the dialog.
  3. Understand that it’s not the tools but the topics. It should be the substance of the conversation which should be the focus. Tools change, but customers have issues that need to be heard and there is a great opportunity to get previously unmet customer needs out of the dialog if you co-ordinate this data with other channels.
  4. People don’t live and breath your products. Unless you are RIM or maybe APPLE you have to consider your products in the context of the customer’s lives; how they enable customers to meet (or exceed) their needs. The conversations should be real and not just marketing jargon. Customers can see beyond language that doesn’t relate to their experience.
  5. Need to go beyond click-thrus and impressions to measure overall brand engagement. Executives must be prepared that it might not increase transactions in immediate short term but will allow a new dialog with customers. What does this mean? If someone engages with a brand on a social media site then recommends your product to others on their blog should you say your website failed? Of course not. It must be one component of the overall mix.
  6. Measure measure measure. Based on your overall objectives and also the objectives of your other partners in the value chain you need to use metrics that have relevance to your business – metrics that executives understand.
  7. Need to dedicate resources to this as an ongoing initiative. Just doing it for a short term won’t produce desired results over long term. There’s a need to understand and implement compatible compensation structure to reward success to make sure that this doesn’t go the way of other “buzz-word” tactics.
  8. Consider it as part of current marketing mix. It should not be thought of as standing alone, or as a replacement to current initiatives (see excellent post by @tamera)
  9. Understand current customer viewpoints on products and services. In order to start finding ways to engage customers, review existing customer needs insight and if necessary look at re-examining ways to get deep customer needs back into the organization.
  10. Tweak and build feedback loop to continually improve the initiative.

And don’t fret if it doesn’t immediately take off. No matter what anyone says, nobody has this totally figured out yet…

Strategic innovation counters short-term thinking

Many executives find themselves facing difficult decisions these days in light of the challenging economic conditions. Short-term results are often scrutinized closely by the market as a way of determining a company’s financial health and direction. Although this can be a viable way of judging whether corporate strategy is translating into market success, what often happens is that short-term thinking permeates the organization leading to a starvation of resources for longer-term initiatives like new products and services.

One can see this happening at large companies in different sectors as they announce cutbacks in spending on innovation to meet customer needs. As the former CTO of Cisco notes, America is facing an “Innovation Crisis,” and needs to find “new ways of funding fundamental research.”

She cites the fact that Bell Labs announced late last year that it was discontinuing basic science research to “align the research work in the Lab closer to areas that the parent company is focusing on.”

The problem is that with these expense reductions, there is a tendency to pull back customer facing programs in order to conserve cash and “reduce” risk. As in an earlier post, I maintain that this may actually be a riskier strategy over the long term as competitors who continue their innovation program will be in better shape once the economy returns to normal growth.

Arguably, innovation can be seen as an “assembly” of tools, techniques, or assets to meet those deep customer needs. But without the foundation of basic research, it is very difficult to source assets to put into a solution. Of course there are grey areas within both fields, but I believe these days it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify investments in basic research which makes partnerships with universities an interesting way to explore getting access to more fundamental work.

In my opinion, innovation (which I define as meeting stated or unstated customer needs) is different than basic research or invention. While both are important, it is harder to make the case in today’s corporate environment for basic research, which is why I believe that many corporations are reducing their investments in these areas to (hopefully) concentrate more on innovation and getting more value from their existing assets. Keep in mind that the best way to use these assets is understanding the needs and taking a simple (but not dumb) approach to serving them.

In this economic climate, we at Brandsential work towards this goal by using “Value Extraction;” to leverage what’s inside the company to satisfy deep customer needs. And as I’ve said before, now is a perfect time to develop and innovate with these existing assets to make sure the company is well positioned to lead the market once the economic climate improves.

Customers and willingness to pay

In order to launch successful products a basic requirement is to know what your customers want and how much they are willing to pay to get your product.

Some products have a very low value to a set of customers; some have a high value to a set of customers but without talking to your customers, it becomes very hard to understand what they want to do and why they should buy your product over others… This is where Brandsential can help.