rearview mirror planning

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I’ve done a good deal of brand work with startups.  It’s not the easiest work but it is exciting because a great deal of the planning takes place “beyond the dashboard.” When I break out the “24 Questions,” (the follow the money questions) there’s not a lot of history to discuss. No last year’s earnings. No market segments. Just lots of nos and nones. (Note: Beyond the dashboard planning refers to tabula rasa planning, contrasting with the more common “rearview mirror” or “side view mirror” planning.)

And let’s not even start talking about how founders, especially in the tech space, can change strategy. Like underwear. More disciplined startup founders may change business strategy only once or twice. Sometimes a meandering proof-of-concept is the culprit, e.g., you build a brand around family doctors and specialists want to purchase, or you focus on ecommerce and people keep paying you for search. Shit happens.

The more flighty founders (the underwear changers) can be influenced by the last meeting they were in; say, an investor or a key industry blogger. (Been there, learned from that.)

But startups are a good training grounds for brand planners. Planners can have a powerful influence on direction. Even if founders don’t abide   It creates structure for them. Yeses and Nos. Ones and Zeroes. 

If you are a brand planner, you need to bracket your experience with some startups. Trust me.




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The Lake House

There’s a wonderful restaurant in Bay Shore, NY called The Lake House.  Bay Shore is where the Fire Island Ferries take vacationers across the Great South Bay to a number of lovely Fire Island communities.  The Lake House used to be a small, cozy fine dining eatery perched on a lake. The Lake House serves great food and with business being good the owners decided to move to a bigger location. Smart business idea.  

I’m sure they invested millions to update the old mainland “Flynn’s,” located on a prime location on the Bay — a location that laid fallow for decades. The new building looks great. That said, The Lake House is not on a lake anymore. It’s on a saline body of water the rivals the Chesapeake in its richness and local glory. The Lake House is on the bay.

I understand brand equity. I really do. But the owners are not looking beyond the dashboard with their brand strategy they are doing rearview mirror planning. I wish the establishment the best, they deserve it. But the restaurant and brand also deserve a new, more fitting name.  Happy to help.  I’ve been known to work for beer and appetizers.





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tgi fridays

TGI Fridays is doing a big brand refresh in the hopes of slowing its revenue downturn. Recently sold to a new investment group, TGI Fridays launched as a single restaurant on the upper east side of Manhattan decades ago by Ben Benson and Alan Stillman. Some credit these two gents with inventing the “single’s bar.”

As part of the brand refresh there is lots of talk about talking tchotchkes off the walls, replacing frozen with fresh ingredients, updating the menu and removing potato skins from consumer muscle memory. All of which are good ideas, especially the food upgrade. But there is something about the original concept that might endure if the brand planners dig deeply enough. Places where the vibe is conducive to meeting people is not a bad business model. Look at online dating services. Look at the Axe strategy. Read a Millennials magazine.

Were I the planner on the business I’d try to understand what made the original Friday’s Fridays. What made it different from Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday (other Stillman and Benson brands). Only Friday’s made it.

Readers know I’m not big on rearview mirror planning. But I am about providing consumers with experiences that meet needs and desires. So a little look back might help with Fridays look forward. Peace.


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Research in Motion (RIM) headquartered in Ottawa, Canadia (as my son calls it), is playing catch-up. I don’t want to say it is floundering because it had good sales last quarter overseas, but if I were to ask you to close your eyes and said the word “Blackberry,” the picture that would come to mind behind those eyelids would be a black, short qwerty keyboard below a screen filled with email headers.

The Blackberry is a great device that does one thing well but it’s awful for web surfing.  Slow, slow, slower, slow. And who can read .025 size type…so you know where to zoom. The Playbook is a me-too tablet and the company just seems rudderless.  If I read articles about RIM’s business strategy that sounded focused I’d feel better, but I don’t.  Today there was an article saying the company is relying on carriers and IT depts. to keep growth alive.

I don’t want to go all RIP RIM, but there needs to be some leadership and focus on the future here. Motorola did it. HP is doing it. Nokia is juggling, cutting, partnering with Microsoft and may have a neat bottom-feeding strategy.  RIM, even with its strong user base, seems to be playing the harvest rather than the growth game. It is spending too much time looking in the rear and side view mirrors and forgetting to look beyond the dashboard.  The last 18 months have been a bitch.  The next 18 months will tell the complete story. Peace.

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“Logistics Are in Vogue With Designers” reads a headline in today’s Wall Street Journal. With the economy continuing to soften, some of the larger design house brands such as Valentino and Bulgari are investing in IT and more robust supply chain systems; the thought being, if they know what is selling where and when, they can quickly course correct and optimize profits.
As a planner, one of the businesses I’ve always loved to watch is the clothing design business. The best designers look ahead for inspiration. They bet their careers on it. Yet with all of this new reporting from stores and more science in the equation, inspiration will wane. I often squawk about “rearview mirror” planners.  I have no problem with data collection and analysis, but it does not provide the way forward.  

The best clothing designers know this and should swear off these sales reports.


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