Friday, October 28, 2011

Innovation at it's Best

When Jonah Staw brought up the idea of selling mis-matched socks in threes while having dinner with his friends back in 2004, his friends at the table started laughing at him and told him it was a terrible idea. WHY? Because we live in a society where socks are meant to be sold in matching pairs. When I shared the same idea with my friends over dinner just to see how they would react, strangely enough, I received the same reaction as Jonah did 7 years ago. It was only after telling my friends that this crazy sock idea now known as LittleMissMatched, which operates in over 850 department stores in the United States with over $50 million in sales a year, that they all unanimously changed their minds. Why is it that people today are unable to think  "out of the box"? Have we been programmed to think in a certain way after all the education we received and after all the strategies employed by marketers? Clearly Jonah Staw, CEO of LittleMissMatched dared to be different or as the late Steve Job's would say, "stay foolish".

In today's business environment, where companies compete like crazy, daring to be "different" is the key to companies having the winning edge over the rest. When I say "different", I mean a 180 degree change. Even though companies are deeply committed to the concept of differentiation, at any moment they are also intensely aware of what their competitors are doing, and it is this competitive vigilance that ultimately pushes them down a path of conformity.  This causes a huge disconnect between the way companies talk about their products and brands, and the way consumers ultimately experience them. So when is it the right time for change?

Companies usually make incremental changes to their existing products and services to stay in the game. With an excess of similar offerings in the marketplace all claiming to be different, it's nearly impossible for businesses to get their products noticed and command a premium for their efforts. This behavior is common in successful companies operating in mature industries. The mistake they make is that they become complacent and stop innovating and they find themselves on a path that gets narrower and narrower. Eventually when they reach the end of the path, their customers would have forsaken them for a new offering that nobody saw coming. It's only now when they are backed into the corner with no choices that they decide to move in a new direction. The bottom line, is that companies that try to differentiate themselves by focusing on incremental innovation instead of game-changing, disruptive innovation will differentiate themselves right out of the business. Instead, companies should be executing game changing ideas like LittleMissMatched, at the peak of their success. In that way, they will continuously turn consumers expectations upside down and take an industry into the next generation, and Apple, has used this concept very well over the past decade.

In companies, especially in the marketing department, the term "creative" and "innovative" have been over used, that now those terms have become a cliche.  Are companies actually practicing what they preach? In an interview with a McKinsey panel, a Chief Strategy Officer from a Fortune 500 company said that 20% of their new products are now required to be driven by innovation. However when questioned by the panel if the company was setting aside 20% of their time for innovation, his answer was a no. Innovation just doesn't happen. Organizations need to change culturally and structurally to enable innovative thinking.

I personally feel that we are already in the midst of the next revolution and the best time to execute an innovative or "crazy" idea would be now. Majority of companies are inhibiting their growth and potential for success in a "monkey see monkey do" business environment where they are changing for the sake of changing to keep up with their competitors. They are too busy looking for the next big idea that they often miss out on the simplest ones that could change an industry. All of us have the ability to create our own original ideas that can change the world in which we live in. When we do have an idea, we need to be brave, take a big leap of faith and act on it. Be wrong at the start to be right at the end. Jonah Staw and many other successful entrepreneurs past and present had the guts to do this. So whats stopping you? I will leave you with one of my favorite commercials where a simple idea has a huge  potential to change the way we do things. (P.S I love the song)

Ideas from: 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Your Audience is Now an Audience of Audiences with Audiences

So it's been a real hectic week for me; preparing for exams, attending events, and performing at the Brooklyn Salsa Festival. The highlight of the week though, was attending the Pivot Conference held in NYC from 17-19 Oct 2011.

Thanks to a last minute intervention from Brian Solis, Principal of Altimeter Group, I was able to attend this event at the Crowne Plaza in Times Square. Btw Brian just launched his new book, "The End of Business As Usual", available on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles etc. For those who don't know who Brian Solis is, Brian was name the most influential leader of the year 2010 by CRM Magazine. He is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders and published authors in new media. Brian also works with business on new media strategies and frameworks to build bridges between companies and customers, employees and other stake holders. 

Moving on, the Pivot Conference was attended by some of the biggest names in the Media and Marketing Industry. Unlike traditional conferences, where participants travel to another part of the world and then spend several days listening to presentations and networking with other professionals in the same field, this conference engaged every participant by getting them involved in it.

In today's climate, if you take a second to notice people's behavior in the subway, at the dining table or even in the living room, you will now notice that people can't help but look down on their devices and let their fingers do the talking. Surprisingly (NOT), this was the normal behavior of every participant at the conference and acceptable by all the guest speakers for both days. Usually, speakers would find this behavior very rude or disrespectful, expressing concerns of the obvious lack of attention that they were receiving. Others would be worried if their messages were getting through to the intended audience. However, in today's digital era, it's about time we embrace change and take a step forward towards the digital revolution.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into ballroom were 2 large projector screens with tweets rolling down like drops of rain on a glass window. (FYI the record number of tweets per second (TPS) is 6,939). The tweets were from the participant at the event twitting information that they just learnt or simply even asking questions to the panel about their topic of discussion. Throughout each panel session, majority of participants were looking down at their gadgets most of the time or looking at the projector screen for information that is relevant, few in fact had their heads up towards the speaker. This was a whole new experience for me. Not only were the audience registering what you were saying, but they were spreading the message or topic to people of similar interest all over the world. Take that for engaging the audience!!!

The audience today is not the audience of 20 years ago. We are now twitting, facebooking and bloggin information that we think are important to us and sharing it with others. If speakers/companies can recognize this distinction, they will be able to use this to their advantage and amplify their message to reach a greater pool of people out there. This is the era of an audience with audiences of audiences.

For  anyone with a message, from brands to speakers to politicians and everything else in between, connecting with the consumer is how we stay relevant and spark reactions that are mutually beneficial. The trick is to capture the attention right now and competing not just for the future, but also for the moment.

On a personal note, educators today may consider using this approach to deliver messages across to their students especially in lectures with a huge number of students. I have witnessed first hand for myself where Professors will make it a rule for students to turn off their mobile devices or their computers so that they will pay attention in class. Often though, there will be a group of few students that wander of into their own space on the internet, however I will argue that it is the lack of engagement with the students that causes their minds to be distracted. If educators can engage students through social media, just like the twitting experience with the speakers at the conference, I feel that classes will be more engaging, which can improve the learning process and help students understand concepts better. Students will be able to Google relevant topics for discussions during class or event tweet a question if they need clarification during a lecture. Where are you in today's digital era? I will leave you with a famous picture from Apple to get you thinking.

Ideas from: Solis,B (2011) The End of Business As Usual, John Wiley and Sons (pg 56-71)