We Put the ‘No’ in Innovation

Here’s an ad that I saw in the May 1, 2009 issue of The Week magazine. It’s from Post advertising their Shredded Wheat cereal with creative from Ogilvy:

Progress is Overrated

Personally, I love it. Just as wrong-headed financial management is being righted in this economy, we can reclaim the oft-maligned word innovation to mean actual progress.

So where does real progress exist? It’s in between the innovation hucksters and those too reluctant to strive to make things better. I think Barry Curewitz, managing partner of Whole-Brain Brand Expansion, advocates for a rational, balanced approach to developing new products in his article, “Innovate with Balance.” due out in the May/June 2009 issue of Marketing Management magazine.

In summary, Barry argues two major points:

  1. His research shows companies are chasing too many strategies in a time when there’s too few resources, with identifiable shortcomings in the operations of otherwise good product ideas. In other words, in this time of tight budgets, invest wisely by supporting only what has potential, and then invest with real commitment. His examples of market performance for common household products demonstrates the point clearly.
  2. Companies can benefit by balancing structured, analytical methods with less structured, creative methods. We need the former to execute development plans, and we need the latter to create unique products, e.g. collaboration between MBA’s and creatives; coordination of innovation methods with Stage Gate methods.

Social Media as a Product Testing Audience (e.g. for Motrin)

To catch you up, Motrin posted the below ad and people, particularly baby-carrying mothers, were so offended that the makers of Motrin pulled the ad.

Many of the offended people (“Motrin Moms” there were dubbed) were on Twitter, as well as blogs and YouTube. As a result, marketers are starting to get scared of social media, just as social media is taking off as a legitimate communications approach.

But another way of looking at it is, better the Motrin ad underwent a social media firestorm than a mass media firestorm. Continue reading

Maybe Mass Marketing Works After All

When it comes to viral influence, does the influence of a select few “key influencers” matter more than “the rest of us”? Duncan Watts of Yahoo Research says no, as Clive Thompson writes in Is the Tipping Point Toast?” in Fast Company. Watts says:

It [achieving marketing success through influentials] just doesn’t work. A rare bunch of cool people just don’t have that power. And when you test the way marketers say the world works, it falls apart. There’s no there there.

Free MIT Sloan Article: Clay Christensen on Product Dev

For a limited time only you can download the full text of Finding the Right Job for Your Product by Clayton M. Christensen et al. The article itself isn’t revolutionary — they essentially mirror the transition that marketing research has undergone in moving from demographic to affinity customer segmentation. Christensen and his colleagues describe that transition in terms of product development. It starts to get a little muddled as they come up with their own interpretation/strawman of user-centered design and then critique it, but the intentions seem noble.

Marketing Experimentation

Last year I hacked away at an article about the need for a greater degree of experimentation in marketing organizations, but it never really seemed to gel quite right, and eventually I abandoned it. I’m happy to see that Joseph Jaffe completed the task in Manifesto for Experimentation. Successful executives I’ve seen already embrace this attitude when they become comfortable with tolerating risk, but it doesn’t commonly spread through organizations.

Michael Linton on Marketing Innovation

I attended an interview last night with Michael Linton, CMO of Best Buy, sponsored by Fortune magazine. He expressed the same healthy attitude toward trials that I’ve heard from other successful executives, e.g. “We have the programs we do regularly, the ready-aim-fire activities. Then we have the ready-fire-aim activities, the new programs we’re trying out. It’s important you don’t try to measure those in the same way. Some won’t contribute to making your numbers but will teach you new things.

And he offered less common advice, like “If you can be 70% successful in a new activity, that’s great. If you try to acheive the other 30%, the market will probably move on without you while you’re striving for perfection. We work hard to keep up with the market.

Hyundai Brand Evolution

Hyundai successfully entered the U.S. market as a low-cost competitor, became established, and has even started to offer an affordable luxury model. And now a recent J.D. Power report listing them as the No. 1 non-premium auto maker in terms of perceived quality, ahead of previous frontrunner Toyota.

But when you’re known for being the cheap option, how to you re-educate the market? (While Hyundai’s products are not of the disruptive variety, I’m interested in this challenge because it confronts the typical disruptive innovator.) This Gazelle vs. Lion 30-second commercial from The Richards Group should definitely help.

The client-centered innovation imperative

There’s an inherent problem in trying to market anything complex like innovation: we practioners are passionate and by necessity employ a rich set of ideas, while our clients who need it, by definition, have focused on another aspect of business and may not have the time nor the inclination to understand these rich ideas in order to engage in the practice. Clients need something simpler to hook into the practice, and if they are willing they will gradually learn more. The problem is, the practioners (like myself) feel it’s inauthentic to over-simplify our ideas.

Grant McCracken tells a story about this in Obituary for a Friend

This is an obituary for a friend who has gone over to the method… Working with Danny was like fishing the Grand Banks before the Europeans came in earnest. So many ideas, so thickly packed, you could walk on them anywhere. …he now plays things by the book. He’s got this method through which everything must pass.

Grant sums up the situation well, and (not ironically) the responses to Grant’s post explore the subtlety of this situation, that it depends on what you mean by method, and to some extent we all have a method.

Regarding clients, I think their motivations go beyond mere lack of time and inclination. Mark Edmunson’s recent article, Freud and the Fundamentalist Urge, reviews Freud’s work on society and politics to find an explanation of why we follow some leaders and not others…

In his last days, Freud became increasingly concerned about our longing for inner peace — our longing, in particular, to replace our old, inconsistent and often inscrutable over-I with something clearer, simpler and ultimately more permissive. We want a strong man with a simple doctrine that accounts for our sufferings, identifies our enemies, focuses our energies and gives us, more enduringly than wine or even love, a sense of being whole.

The challenge before our discipline now is to increase the ways we can assist clients by reconciling our complex ideas with their desire for something simpler.

A Recipe for a Decision-Making Bottleneck

The latest HBR offers a pleasing overview of decision making. The below callout is from Who Has the D? by Paul Rogers and Marcia Blenko

A Recipe for a Decision-Making Bottleneck

At one automaker we studied, marketers and product developers were confused about who was responsible for making decisions about new models.

When we asked, “Who has the right to decide which features will be standard?”

64% of product developers said, “We do.”

83% of marketers said, “We do.”

When we asked, “Who has the right to decide which colors will be offered?”

77% of product developers said, “We do.”

61% of marketers said, “We do.”

Not surprisingly, the new models were delayed.

Jeep Launches Cellphone TV Channel

Now that’s a headline that made me stop and think…

JEEP LAUNCHES OWN MOBILE PHONE TV CHANNEL
Axe Deodorant Also Said to be Negotiating Similar Deal with MobiTV
SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) — In an effort to harness mobile phone TV as a major branded entertainment medium, Jeep is launching its own mobile phone channel with MobiTV. The content is available to about 500,000 subscribers using Cingular, Sprint, Alltel and other mobile networks.

Most people I know don’t realize live TV on mobile phones is not only possible, it’s widely available. If you haven’t seen it, get a demo now. It’s a visceral demonstration of current technology, more so than video on an iPod or PSP.

And notice that Jeep didn’t partner with a broadcast or cable channel — the traditional experts of live TV — to produce this channel; they as advertiser partnered with the technology provider directly. In essence Jeep has become a broadcaster in it’s own right. It’ll be fun to watch that value chain re-order.

When is marketing not marketing?

For Sarah McLachlan’s World On Fire video, they spent almost the whole production budget solving the problems she’s writing about rather than producing the video.

When Boots pharmacy customers weren’t taking advantage of a service that transfers prescriptions directly from the doctor, Marketing firm Naked Communications stepped in: “Boots discontinued its TV spots and had employees suggest the service to customers waiting in line for prescriptions. According to Chris Laud, Boots’ media manager, the number of participants in the program has skyrocketed several hundred percent at a fraction of the cost of the TV campaign.

In Douglass Rushkoff’s new book he writes, “When things are down, CEO’s look to consultants and marketers to rethink, re-brand or repackage whatever it is they are selling, when they should be getting back on the factory floor, into the stores, or out to the research labs where their product is actually made, sold, or conceived.”

If this is a larger trend, I think it’s because marketing has made consumers either cynical or confused, or both. There’s still a role for marketing to play in a customer-centric marketplace, but it requires collaborating with engineering and design rather than putting lipstick on pigs.

More: How to spend your marketing and ad budget.

Reframing control in social media

We’ve been working for several companies facing how they and their markets change with the further spread of social media. It’s creating enormous potential for more democratic media production and sophisticated tools, but a lot of it will rely on companies understanding it and being receptive to it. We’re developing a framework to help companies do this, and one of the key considerations is not scaring the shit out of them.

I’m referring here to the control issue. Some have simply said “you must give up control.” J.D. Lasica puts it more gently: “We’re transitioning to a new kind of culture. More participatory, more open, more interactive where the locus of control passes.”

I agree, and yet telling business people they’re losing control isn’t likely to go down well. People like control. Managers like control. Control helps us survive in an uncertain world.

Jeff Jarvis frames it a different way: “The No. 1 lesson of the Internet whether you’re Howard Dean or a media company or a marketer, is that you have to give up control to gain control.” He cites a benefit, but still we’re left asking, “How much control does one give up? What do we really stand to gain?” Business managers aren’t an audience of socialists, they’re an audience that needs to make money to keep themselves and their colleagues employed in an uncertain economy. social media diagram I think frames that appeal to good old fashioned business drivers will be more effective, such as:

  • build communities of loyal customers
  • reduce content creation/acquisition costs
  • increase audience size through viral marketing
  • offensively compete with would-be disruptive media forces

…and so on. We outlined these in the form of a poster, Social Media and Value Creation. It’s a work in progress; we haven’t seen established companies pursue this course yet and everyone will be learning.

Marketing & mental models

I sincerely think human-centered designers’ (I use the term designer in the widest sense) ability to regard problems in a personal way results in drastically different solutions. Lately I’ve been looking at how marketing programs are designed to fit customers’ mental models, or not.

For example, here’s JetBlue’s frequent flier program: short flights earn 2 points, medium flights earn 4 points, and long flights earn 6 points. Book online and you get double points. 100 points earns you a free flight.

Compare this to the American Express rewards program, where I just scrolled through pages of Terms and Conditions text. The eligibility section has five paragraphs, here’s the first paragraph (that last sentence kills me):

The program is available to Basic Personal Card, Gold Card, American Express® Preferred Rewards Green Card, American Express® Preferred Rewards Gold Card, Platinum Card,® Rewards Plus Gold Card, FSA Gold Card, Fidelity American Express® Card, Fidelity American Express® Gold Card, Fidelity American Express Platinum Card® and some Blue from American Express Cards, Basic Optima,® Optima Platinum, Optima Gold Card or Business Management Account members whose American Express® Credit Card or Optima Card account is associated with an eligible AMEX charge Card account enrolled in the program (“Eligible Amex Credit Card”). Basic and Additional CMs holding a Business Card from OPEN: The Small Business Network (“Business CMs”) who have one of the following Cards may also enroll in the program: Business Gold Card, Business Platinum Card,® Business Centurion® Card, Executive Business Card, Business Purchase Account, Business Costco Card or Business Membership Rewards Card. American Express® Rewards Green CMs and American Express® Rewards Gold CMs may also enroll and remain enrolled in the program as long as they have another eligible AMEX charge Card account enrolled in the program. Basic and Additional Corporate CMs may enroll in the program unless their company has chosen not to participate in the program. Accounts or Cards not listed in this paragraph (e.g., Student Optima Card, American Express® Credit Card for Students, American Express Costco Cash Rebate Card, Hilton HHonors Credit Card, Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card, Starwood Preferred Guest ® Credit Card, IN:NYCsm, Incentive Funds Cardtm, Golf Card, American Express® Cash Rebate Card, Blue Cash from American Express, Corporate Purchasing Card, Corporate Meeting Card, Corporate Defined Expense Card, Business Travel Accounts, line of credit accounts, Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card, Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card, Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card, Community Business Card, Business Cash Rebate Card, Cardless Central Billing Accounts and other non-Card accounts) are not eligible for enrollment in the program. Card eligibility is subject to change.