Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Eat with your Left Hand

Last night I was taking a late train home from the city, reading the May issue of Women's Health Magazine to unwind. I had just finished a really stimulating Expert Panel at ?WhatIf! on Skinny Innovation so my brain was still a bit in overdrive.

In between the articles on flatter abs and firmer buns, I came across an article about will power that really struck a chord.

The secret it seems to mastering the previously insurmountable task of controlling mind and body is ....drum roll please...eating with your left hand.

The article said if you are normally right-handed, but make an effort to break out of this pattern and eat with your left hand you will have more control over what you eat. After repeated forced use of your "less dominant" side, not only does will power improve but overall complex task mastery as well.

I found this really thought provoking with a potentially interesting twist for innovation.

I started to think about activities I take for granted and wondered if a little conscious detour could actually help me become more aware, more focused and perhaps more creative.

Here's a few "left-handed" ideas:

Re-arrange the furniture in your office, cube, or just the layout of the stuff on your desk. (At ?WhatIf! they have open seating and everyone chooses a different location every day depending on their mood).

Take a different route to work. If you take the subway try the bus, if you walk try a different street, if you drive take a detour (or better yet...ride your bike!).

Switch from coffee to tea for the day.

Let someone else lead the meeting you usually chair.

Boxers to briefs?

You get the idea. Go out of your way to change a "second nature" behavior and see what develops.

That's my point of View. What's your twist?

What's your "left-handed" trick?

Monday, April 27, 2009

"What Else?"

"What else?". Two simple words that are a powerful weapon against mediocrity.

I learned them from a friend of mine who works in magazine marketing. She's been in her job a while, so she confesses a need to constantly challenge herself to keep things fresh.

She asks "what else?" in every meeting, on every project and in every review with her staff.

These words help remind her that there is always a way to push things further.

Could it work for you?

Here's a simple check list to apply the “what else” principle:

What else can we do with this idea that no one else could?
If you're going to do it...own it!

What else can we do to activate this idea on more levels?
Make the most of every precious dollar.

What else do our consumers really want?
Make sure you’re meeting genuine target needs and not just talking to yourself.

What else can we do to surprise and delight them?
Go beyond satisfaction, offer some magic.

What else can we put in place to measure effectiveness? .
Quantify results to demonstrate success and support for more budget.

And the two that I think are the most important:

Ask your juniors…what else would you do?
Use every moment as a training opportunity.

What else are we scared to try but should consider?
Go on, be bolder!

So on this Monday morning, as you shake off the weekend cobwebs and get back into the work day swing, try asking yourself "what else" and see what develops.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What other "what else" principles do you use to keep things fresh?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Breaking Up (Shouldn’t Be) Hard to Do

A friend of mine is trying to get out of a relationship, and it’s proving quite difficult.

In this case the relationship is with her gym, World Gym in Queens.

Even though the gym is down the street from her house they won’t let her stop by and just cancel. They are requiring that she send in a certified letter. This means she has to take time out of her busy schedule, go out of her way to a post office, stand in line, and get the letter certified. To make matters worse when she pressed the gym on why it had to be this way the only response she got was a not very helpful “that’s our policy”.

If brands are relationships…isn’t part of being in a strong, rewarding relationship also being able to get out of it in a respectful way?

With a minimum of drama and with a possibility of friendship in the future.

Because here’s the thing, she’s going to leave any way. She’s made up her mind. The relationship isn’t working for her. She’d rather find a gym that has a location near her home and her office. But now she’s going to leave with a bad taste in her mouth. And chances are she will tell her story to other friends in her neighborhood, thus limiting the gym’s future relationship prospects (e.g. the ability to attract new members).

In contrast, a while ago I called TMobile to break up and it was a whole different experience. I had gotten a new Blackberry at work and with it came a new plan with a new provider. When I spoke to a service rep at TMobile they didn’t push back. They listened to my reasons. Thanked me for my loyal years of service, and were respectful of my decision.

They also mentioned another option. Having completed the requirements of my contract period, they suggested I take advantage or our rich history together and switch to a lower rate plan for another phone. And that’s what I did. I kept the relationship alive in a new context. A cheaper monthly plan, perfect for my tween daughter.

I decided to stay involved with them, albeit in a lower commitment way. But I got the feeling that if I had finally opted just to cut all ties, they would have been OK with that and wished me well. Not made me feel badly for having shifting needs. And that made me feel good about our relationship and willing to recommend them to others.

Parting can be sweet sorrow, but it shouldn’t be unnecessarily difficult. That should also be true for brands. Especially these days when many of us are having to make difficult relationship choices. We need our brands to understand and leave the door open for us to come back.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What brands have made it easy or hard for you to break up with them?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Take Your Kids To Work Day …Every Day

Today is official “Take our Kids to Work Day” an annual event where boys and girls get to go into work and get a glimpse of what their parents do when they’re not home being plain old mom and dad.

It's a great program, but it got me to thinking, maybe once a year isn’t enough.

What would happen if we took our kids to work every day?

Now I don’t mean literally. I’m thinking more metaphorically. What would happen if we let our “inner child” rule our approach to work.

My eight year old son is at a great age. Full of imagination and not yet at that self-conscious teenage stage. He loves coming up with ideas for Virgin businesses. His Virgin school bus complete with swivel seats, soft drinks coolers and Nintendo DS is actually one worth considering. Oh and it flies over traffic if you’re stuck behind some cars….

What if we allowed our eight year old selves to take over at work?

Even the most creative and collaborative environments could probably learn a thing or two from making every day “take your kids to work day”.

Chances are that overall work would be more fun.

We’d spend less time setting up meetings and worrying about getting through all our emails - and actually spend more time creating value through imaginative play. This could lead to more ideas. Maybe some crazy ones, but some gems as well.

Documents and presentations would be simpler. We’d use fewer big words and more colorful pictures to express ourselves. We couldn’t hide behind marketing and business jargon, because we wouldn’t know what it meant, and our colleagues (other kids) would quickly call us out on it.

We’d also be more comfortable being silly. Making fools out of ourselves, and even being gross (think of the eight year old obsessions with spurting milk out of the nose and burping). But this could be a positive thing. If we felt more relaxed and comfortable with our friends (colleagues) perhaps there would be less time worrying about maintaining our images and a freer exchange or information and ideas.

We would definitely be more collaborative. Few kids like to play alone. Everyone gets a turn up at bat. And losing is tough, but kids know there will always be another chance to play. They have perspective on the stakes and don’t take things more seriously than they deserve.

Innovation and learning would be more tactile and hands on. Instead of describing new packaging structures we’d get out the Play Doh, Legos and pipe cleaners and build models so others would get what we were talking about and easily build on our ideas.

Sound pretty cool, right? So why wait for a once year event? Try channeling your “inner child” more often and you might be pleasantly surprised by the “grown up” success.

That’s my Point of View. What’s your twist?

How do you bring your inner child to work?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Trading IN, Not Down

I was at the Argyle hospitality conference last week and there was a lot of talk of consumers trading down.

This behavior is an unfortunate result of the current economic climate, and one leaving a lot of brands wondering how to protect their market share.

The morning after the conference I was watching CNN on the treadmill in my hotel gym and an alternative expression caught my attention. During an interview on the show- Jim Skinner, McDonald’s CEO, attributed his brand’s unique market growth to "consumers trading IN” .

Regardless of how you feel about McDonald’s I think this is a really interesting concept - and one with potential applications for a wide range of brands.

Trading IN gives me a mental image of opening a door, spreading out the welcome mat and making someone feel valued and invited.

Trading IN cleverly shifts the conversation away from price (no doubt value meals are positvely impacting McDonald’s growth) towards the concept of choice.

Instead of implying compromise, trading IN implies options. A smarter way … a new discovery. It validates a consumer's decision.

It’s an unprecedented time in consumer marketing. Old behaviors have gone out the window with a dizzying speed. But many consumers are adrift.

They know the old choices won’t work, but many haven’t yet settled on new options. This doesn’t just mean taking a high price or mid priced brand and trading down. It could mean finding a new choice.

For example, money spent on destination vacations could be re-invested in family sports equipment like bikes, roller-blades or even wii fit that allow them to spend quality time in a new way.

Trips to restaurants could be replaced by local cooking classes or a new BBQ grill that satisfies a quest for culinary adventure but with a different spin.

Think about these new orphaned consumers, maybe it’s time for your brand to invite them IN.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What are products or services are your trading in to?

Friday, April 17, 2009

BFF's (Best Friends Forever)

“Friend” is the big buzzword right now. Many brands seem to be in a frenzy over the need to “friend” consumers on social networks like FaceBook and MySpace.

Before jumping on this bandwagon, it’s important for us to step back and ask the question:

“Does my brand have what it takes to be a good friend?”

If not, asking consumers to become your friend can actually back fire. Most of us already have more relationships than we feel we can handle. Don’t ask us to commit to another one unless you are sure you can deliver some added value.

Figuring this out whether your brand is “friend-worthy” is pretty similar to evaluating friendships in real life.

Here are my criteria for friendships (the human and the brand ones).

1. BE INTERESTING. Have something relevant and/or useful to say. If you don’t, leave me alone. No viral strategy is going to help you. It’s not going to make you seem cooler or hipper than you actually are. Consumer s are a pretty savvy lot and can see right through that. Just like a nerd is still a nerd, no matter how pimped out the sneakers. If you can’t pass this test, you need to step back and do some pretty basic brand work on your value proposition .

2. BE THERE IN GOOD TIMES AND IN BAD. Most of us have lots of people we can list as acquaintances, but can probably count on one hand the number of people we’d call at 4am in the morning during an emergency or a moment of existential anguish. Real friends are there in good times and in bad. And since we are often in the “bad times” camp lately- brands need to prove there in it for the long haul. It’s been talked about a lot – but the Hyundai layoff protection is a great example of this.

3. KNOW WHEN TO STEP UP AND WHEN TO BACK OFF. People who know me well, know not to talk to me in the morning until I’ve had at least two cups of coffee and have successfully finished NY Time’s Crossword puzzle. Once I’ve had time to properly wake up…I’m all yours. Similarly, my good friends know not to call me after 9pm. I always think it is bad news, and it disturbs the precious “tucking in” time I have with my family. Good friends seem to have a kind of ESP. They call just as you were thinking about them. Great brands also seem to contact me just at the right moment- when I’m thinking about taking a trip, re-ordering my contact lenses, or looking for a killer spring dress.

4. DON'T TRY TO BE ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE. There are friends I like to exercise with, others I like to go out drinking and dancing with, intellectual book buddies, friends I turn to for career advice, and others that just make me laugh. I don’t expect any one friend to satisfy all my needs.I appreciate them each for their individual gifts. What I do hope for is that they be authentic and consistent in what they can offer. The same is true with brands. I don’t want my shampoo to give me financial advice or to teach me ways to be more green. First and foremost, do what you’re supposed to do - really well.

5. DON'T SHARE ALL MY SECRETS. The quickest way to lose a friend is to betray their trust. Brands need to learn this. Consumers aren’t stupid. It’s no coincidence to me when I sign up for a newsletter on healthy living and all of a sudden I get an email or an offer in the post for a new weight loss pill or low fat cooking magazine. I know who has been sharing my information. Treat relationships with respect and the bond will be stronger.

So if you are having conversations about viral strategies, deepening relationships etc, etc, it might be a good idea to first to step back and make sure your brand really has what it takes to be a good friend.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What makes your favorite brands friend-worthy?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Hills are Alive

Spring is finally here, time to lighten up.

I was walking to the train today, and I couldn't help smile when I saw the bright and brave daffodils popping up everywhere.

Then I got into work and recieved this fabulous video of a "impromptu" dance set to a classic song from the Sound of Music in the Antwerp Train station. It's definitely worth checking out and guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

These two things completely lifted my spirits and reminded me how absolutely grumpy I've been feeling lately.

What's this got to do with innovation?

Well, at the risk of being mind-numbingly obvious it's hard to create when we're feeling deflated. I know that some say great pain is the source of great artistry. But for me at least, when it comes to branding it's the opposite. I need some good vibes to get the juices flowing.

So my advice if your feeling stuck is get out of the office go find a field of daffodils...or at least a traffic median filled with tulips, pick up your wide-brimmed straw hat and start running over those Austrian hills... or whatever grass or even parking lot you happen to have nearby.

Lighten up and let the ideas shine through!

That's my point of view. What's your twist?

What are you doing these days to lighten up?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tiffin Up!

I learned a new word today. It’s Tiffin.

It’s a term from India which means “an in-between meal”. It's a ritual that originated during British rule. Workers were able to take much anticipated breaks to enjoy their tiffins which were delivered on-site in distinctive multi-compartment pails.

It got me to thinking about “Tiffining Up” brands.

In these tough economic times, what other brands could see their market share stabilize, dare we dream… even grow, with expanded usage occasions?

How about Tiffining up toothpaste? We’re all brushing twice a day (at least I hope we are). What about a new and unique delivery system that helps us look forward to brushing a third time? Maybe after our 3pm snack before we’re reunited at home with our loved ones (or potential loved ones) at the local singles bar.

That's just one example, there's bound to be countless others.

Maybe one trick to innovating in these tough times is Tiffining Up. In other words, providing people with expanded usage occasions, much anticipated rituals and unique packaging to extend the enjoyment of our brands.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What brands do you think should Tiffin up?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Divine Disasters

To this day, the one movie that scares me more than any other I have ever seen is Jaws.

The underwater shots of the dangling legs of unsuspecting swimmers, the music -“dunton, dunton, dunton”, the subtle disruption of the water’s calm surface as the Great White surreptitiously slithers by. All this creates a tension I can barely tolerate.

Cinematic brilliance orchestrated perfectly from script to final cut. Right?
Well actually…no.

I read somewhere that there were serious mechanical issues with the shark. Steven Spielberg had actually planned to show him full on in many more scenes. But the model wasn’t functioning properly. And he had to devise a plan to create the suspense and fear using other methods and other camera angles - and a lot less actual shark.

In the end, I think it’s a much better movie than it might have been if the mechanical shark had been functioning properly. It’s so much scarier than other disaster movies where very little is left up to the imagination.

I love this story.

It shows the power of taking an obstacle (in this case a malfunctioning -and no doubt very expensive -mechanical shark) and turning it into an opportunity for even greater creativity and impact.

It reminds me that when everything appears to be going wrong, maybe it’s time to look at the situation differently and find the “divine” in the “disaster”.

Next time something goes awry in your brand innovation plans, instead of giving up - try channeling your inner Spielberg and you might just turn a mistake into a masterpiece.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What disasters have you been able to turn into delights?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Why is it that many of us get our best ideas in the shower?

Often in the morning, in my semi-wakeful state I get into the shower, not really thinking about anything other than "lather, rinse, repeat" and suddenly a brilliant idea pops into my head.
I stumble and slide across the floor into my bedroom dripping wet and frantically search for a pen and a piece of paper to capture my soon to be fleeting thought.

Usually I bang my knee on my bedside table and have to stop thinking and start searching for band-aids. When I do revisit my scribble after drying off, the note is either too soggy or too quickly written to make any sense of it.

What's the magic behind the morning shower moment and how can we replicate that hyper-productive thinking in an "drip free" environment where we can properly capture ideas?

This "shower power" may come from the fact we're in a dream-like state between sleep and wakefulness. But I think that it's really the fact that we're engaging in a daily ritual that doesn't require a lot of conscious thought. This allows for ideas to bubble to the surface without our "critique reflex" kicking in - a mechanism which prematurely shuts off a lot of good ideas.

Showering at work for most of us probably isn't an option. Instead, how about trying other similar kinds of repetitive actions: strumming a guitar, knitting, doodling, bouncing a ball etc.

Stop deliberately trying to think of something, try shifting gears- and engaging in an activity that helps you essentially...think of nothing.

It might be just the trick to getting those brilliant ideas pouring out.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?

What "routine" activities help you get in the groove?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Improve with Improv

Think SNL or Second City. Do these silly skits have anything serious to teach us about building better brands?

Quite possibly yes, if you are willing to step outside of your comfort zone.

My friend Marcy was recently telling me about a class she's taking at The People's Improv Theater in NYC . Marcy is an Internet marketer by day. This is just a hobby. She loves the class, it's a great stress buster and she's learning something important about human relationships...namely LETTING GO!

Since I (like many of you) view brands as relationships my ears pricked up. Was she onto something here that could help build better brands?

It turns out, one of the fundamental rules for successful improv is to immediately accept and build on the scenario that is launched by your partner.

If your partner starts the scene by pointing at you and saying "why, look you are a big green martian", the best course of action is to build on this: "Why yes, I am a martian- the very greenest of them all." Any attempt to resist or re-direct results in a short and not very successful scene.

You need to abandon your secret desire to do a scene about something else. A brain surgeon...or an Arctic explorer. And go with the flow created by your improv partner.

Letting go sound easy? Not necessarily so.

Think about the many brainstorm sessions where you pretend to be open to new ideas, but in reality you are just biding your time until you can get your brilliant idea out on the table.

Next time, resist the urge to re-direct and instead embrace your inner martian. Run with it. Revel in it. Play it out to it's fullest potential. Later, when it's your turn to start the scene you can launch your vision of an Arctic world, and since you have set a good example chances are others will be happy to trek across the ice floes with you.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?

How have you used improv to improve?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Back to the Future

The current recession has cast a trance of pervasive doom and gloom - making it hard for even the most inspired among us to come up with new ideas.

Well, don't let the recession get you down. Just skip it. Press the fast forward button to a time in the future and create (don't wait) for a brighter tomorrow.

Here's a specific technique called "message from the future". It was inspired by a birthday party game my daughter and I created. In this game your future self (e.g. brand) sends you a message from the future.

Something like "Hi, It's me, you'll never guess what I'm up to these days. My straight A' s in social studies really paid off. I was just sworn in as the first female president. Boy, is the White House cool! I just re-decorated the Oval Office in zebra stripes and hot pink."

In the brand version of this game, send yourself a message (multiple messages) from the future.

Be outrageous. Take some unexpected twists and turns. Get a group of open minded people in a room together. Write one message per piece of paper. Place them in a hat. Then take turns reading them. Encourage open thinking. Then take your top 3 and sit down to write an action plan about how you could get there.

Embrace a bright brand future, this recession is a blip on the radar. It too shall pass.

That's my point of view. What's your twist?

What's in your brand's future?