innovation planning

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Brand Conservation

I was reading this morning about Australia’s 35 year plan to preserve the Great Barrier Reef. Global warming, coastal development, poor water quality, excessive coal commerce and general nastiness are contributing to the reef’s demise. As with many natural wonders of the world, I often ask what it will take for denizens of the planet to stop withdrawing from the natural ecology of the planet and start giving back. In the United States there is a lot of talk about removing electrical dams, for instance, to put rivers back in sync with the natural order, but the talk an action are out of step.

Brands are also at risk these days. Poor brand management, high rates of employee turnover, new media channels, mergers and acquisitions and technological innovations are draining the meaning and perceived value of many brands. Marilyn Laurie, an AT&T brand executive from the 80-90s, used to preach about making deposits in the brand bank, not making withdrawals. When advertising and marketing make deposits the brand gets stronger. Withdrawals make a brand weaker. In this metaphor the brand currency is brand strategy (one claim, three support planks). Without a strategy it’s hard to know the difference between a deposit and withdrawal.

As is the case with planet, large mature brands need to practice conservation to stem loss. Sadly, brands aren’t focusing enough on what they have and what they are diluting — they are simply planting new ideas then checking the dashboard for signs of life.

I was watching a webinar yesterday put on by The Knowledge Engineers, Brand Republic and ABV/BBDO. One slide in particular was telling. It suggested strategy in innovation planning is too focused on the solutions — paying little attention to understanding the problem. We need to fix that. A conservationist approach.  Peace.


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I write often about “beyond the dashboard” planning and cite Steve Jobs as a main practitioner. Mr. Jobs asked not what consumers wanted, instead he gave them what he knew they would want…after he built it.  This approach is all well and good until it’s your job to start thinking about what people would want and you have to come up with the products. It’s easy talking about the future, much tougher predicting it. Just look at the sports betting business.

Apple’s current CEO Tim Cook may have just taken a page out of Steve’s book this week. In fact, he may have trumped him. Though the Apple Watch (Anyone notice the lack of i?) may not be the design breakthrough we were all expecting, the healthcare applications it promises are going to be market-changing. And if that was not enough, the new iPhone 6’s Apple Pay may be such an innovation that global banking, currency and commerce platforms will change forever. (Does anyone remember standing in long lines at Blockbuster for movie rentals 10 years ago?)

When you do innovation planning you start with pent up demand. Who, I ask, does not care about money and health? Hourly. This is not just another week at the office for Apple. This, as the kids say, is some shit!

I’m not saying the Apple Watch health apps and Apple Pay will hit on all cylinders, but this week and these “ideas to have ideas” will long be remembered. A little coming out party for Tim Cook, me thinks. Peace.


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I was thinking about what’s wrong with education and it dawned on me that a teacher could go for decades without changing his/her  lesson plan.  Okay, that might be an oversimplification but bear with me.  So let’s says that happens for an American history teacher…how does that teacher refresh? Well, one might say they focus on the pedagogy – the teaching itself. With all students being different, the lesson may stay the same but the means of getting though, packaging, and connecting the lesson to “this years” student may change. (Let’s hope.) In other words the material doesn’t change the delivery does.

So what does that mean for branding and marketing? Do we use a syllabus to create our marketing approach? I suspect we do. I, for instance, have been using a couple of planning tools over the years that have not changed much: 24 Questions and a battery of Fact Finding questions.  Sounds kind of formulaic, no?  Am I lazy? These rigors act as fishing nets for me and what I catch will vary. What I do with that catch creates the differentiation. Hmm.

But suppose I approached each assignment more like composing a song. Or creating some other form of art?  It would dash the formula don’t you think? This would be a case of getting rid of the syllabus. And going commando. Let’s think about that in 2013 and see if we can blow some doors off our approaches to strategic development. Peace!


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