Understanding Innovation: Learn From What “Wows” You!

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Innovation is easy to learn from real life experience.  How?  Find products you consume that simply “wow” you, make you talk and make you want to learn more.  Experience them, research them, and reverse engineer to YOUR business model if there is something worthy of “borrowing.”

The process is simple:

  • Find a product you use that makes you talk about, brag, say “try this!”

  • Study the packaging, one of the most critical elements of branding

  • Do some basic research:  Check out the social channels, website, basic Google news/buzz

  • Write down what’s working for the product, ultimately what can be “borrowed.”

Innovation does not need to be a R&D break-through to work.  It also does not need to be driven by costly third party agencies that have a knack for mystifying the process.

But it does need to be special to matter.  More importantly, all the elements of the marketing mix must come together to create a brand loyalist.  Here’s one that nails the equation.

My wife brought the following home:  Popcorn Indiana, “Black & White Kettle corn.”  It was so good the devil must have made it.

Popcorn Indiana Black & White Popcorn

We are not big popcorn eaters, but we are always hunting for the new & different.  This hit the mark.  The combination of chocolate and salt is out of this world.  Guess what else is?

  • The packaging – There are so many health & “quality” claims I’m almost convinced I’m eating a banana.
  • The social media call-outs.  Even better?  Their social media engagement.  They get that social without being “social” is useless. They clearly have standards in place on response time, engagement, and are clearly having fun.  And why not, this is popcorn right?
  • Their website and product line-up – Flavors and unique combinations is what they do; now I want to try the others.  Multimedia, clean images, they simple messaging very well.
  • The founder of the company is somewhat of a serial entrepreneur…..you can learn a ton by learning about a founder.

I don’t know specifics about the Popcorn category, but it’s fair to assume since it’s a salty snack that it is dominated by big players like Frito Lay.  Low cost producers with massive distribution networks and marketing spending.  Can’t out-spend or “out-muscle” the big boys.

But you can always build a winnable plan that doesn’t confront them head to head.

Innovation should be at the top of the list for differentiating a business.  Being different and unique always serves a simple purpose:  It makes direct comparisons difficult.

When that happens, price is less of a factor…

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Smart Marketing or a Loss of Humanity @ Abercrombie?

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A business insider story, which ironically reported news that is over 5 years old caught the world by storm last week.  The CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch clothing retailer had some controversial statements about who they market too, and more importantly, who they do NOT want to associate with.

http://www.businessinsider.com/abercrombie-wants-thin-customers-2013-5

Abercrombie & Fitch CEO

‘In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends.  A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.’”

I will assume this quote is 100% accurate and NOT taken out of a broader context.  After spending over an hour trying to find something to the contrary, I found nothing on-line, on the company’s Facebook page, or official releases to prove otherwise.

Marketers everywhere need to take a hard look at public examples like this.  They provide great learning opportunities of what can work well, and not so much.

First, what can I agree with on this quote?[Continue Reading…]

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Every Obituary Should Be This Colorful

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The obituary that has gone viral, and for good reason.

Shouldn’t every obituary be this colorful?

More importantly, shouldn’t every LIFE be this vivid?

Obituary

December 19, 1932 — March 9, 2013

Long Beach

Harry Weathersby Stamps, ladies’ man, foodie, natty dresser, and accomplished traveler, died on Saturday, March 9, 2013.

Harry was locally sourcing his food years before chefs in California starting using cilantro and arugula (both of which he hated). For his signature bacon and tomato sandwich, he procured 100% all white Bunny Bread from Georgia, Blue Plate mayonnaise from New Orleans, Sauer’s black pepper from Virginia, home grown tomatoes from outside Oxford, and Tennessee’s Benton bacon from his bacon-of-the-month subscription. As a point of pride, he purported to remember every meal he had eaten in his 80 years of life.

The women in his life were numerous. He particularly fancied smart women. He loved his mom Wilma Hartzog (deceased), who with the help of her sisters and cousins in New Hebron reared Harry after his father Walter’s death when Harry was 12. He worshipped his older sister Lynn Stamps Garner (deceased), a character in her own right, and her daughter Lynda Lightsey of Hattiesburg. He married his main squeeze Ann Moore, a home economics teacher, almost 50 years ago, with whom they had two girls Amanda Lewis of Dallas, and Alison of Starkville. He taught them to fish, to select a quality hammer, to love nature, and to just be thankful. He took great pride in stocking their tool boxes. One of his regrets was not seeing his girl, Hillary Clinton, elected President.

He had a life-long love affair with deviled eggs, Lane cakes, boiled peanuts, Vienna [Vi-e-na] sausages on saltines, his homemade canned fig preserves, pork chops, turnip greens, and buttermilk served in martini glasses garnished with cornbread.

He excelled at growing camellias, rebuilding houses after hurricanes, rocking, eradicating mole crickets from his front yard, composting pine needles, living within his means, outsmarting squirrels, never losing a game of competitive sickness, and reading any history book he could get his hands on. He loved to use his oversized “old man” remote control, which thankfully survived Hurricane Katrina, to flip between watching The Barefoot Contessa and anything on The History Channel. He took extreme pride in his two grandchildren Harper Lewis (8) and William Stamps Lewis (6) of Dallas for whom he would crow like a rooster on their phone calls. As a former government and sociology professor for Gulf Coast Community College, Harry was thoroughly interested in politics and religion and enjoyed watching politicians act like preachers and preachers act like politicians. He was fond of saying a phrase he coined “I am not running for political office or trying to get married” when he was “speaking the truth.” He also took pride in his service during the Korean conflict, serving the rank of corporal–just like Napolean, as he would say.

Harry took fashion cues from no one. His signature every day look was all his: a plain pocketed T-shirt designed by the fashion house Fruit of the Loom, his black-label elastic waist shorts worn above the navel and sold exclusively at the Sam’s on Highway 49, and a pair of old school Wallabees (who can even remember where he got those?) that were always paired with a grass-stained MSU baseball cap.

Harry traveled extensively. He only stayed in the finest quality AAA-rated campgrounds, his favorite being Indian Creek outside Cherokee, North Carolina. He always spent the extra money to upgrade to a creek view for his tent. Many years later he purchased a used pop-up camper for his family to travel in style, which spoiled his daughters for life.

He despised phonies, his 1969 Volvo (which he also loved), know-it-all Yankees, Southerners who used the words “veranda” and “porte cochere” to put on airs, eating grape leaves, Law and Order (all franchises), cats, and Martha Stewart. In reverse order. He particularly hated Day Light Saving Time, which he referred to as The Devil’s Time. It is not lost on his family that he died the very day that he would have had to spring his clock forward. This can only be viewed as his final protest.

Because of his irrational fear that his family would throw him a golf-themed funeral despite his hatred for the sport, his family will hold a private, family only service free of any type of “theme.” Visitation will be held at Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Home, 15th Street, Gulfport on Monday, March 11, 2013 from 6-8 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you make a donation to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (Jeff Davis Campus) for their library. Harry retired as Dean there and was very proud of his friends and the faculty. He taught thousands and thousands of Mississippians during his life. The family would also like to thank the Gulfport Railroad Center dialysis staff who took great care of him and his caretaker Jameka Stribling.

Finally, the family asks that in honor of Harry that you write your Congressman and ask for the repeal of Day Light Saving Time. Harry wanted everyone to get back on the Lord’s Time.

View & sign register book @ www.bradfordokeefe.com

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/sunherald/obituary.aspx?pid=163538353#fbLoggedOut

 

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The Hail Mary: Rarely Works in Sports OR Business

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The term “Hail Mary pass” has become generalized to refer to any last-ditch effort with little chance of success.  The origins come from football that denotes a long, low probability pass at the end of the half or game.  Picture 5 wide receivers sprinting to the end zone while the QB scrambles, buying time while he launches the football with all his might 50+ yards, while 7 or more defenders greet the sprinters in the end-zone.

Hail Mary Pass in Business or Football, low probability of success

It’s certainly a captivating play, and thrilling when it works.  But the facts are not on its side in terms of success rate…..which is hard to find but if it’s greater than 10% I’d be shocked.

All too often businesses try their own version of the Hail Mary.

It could be the struggling brand in a cash-strapped company that tries a flashy new ad on the Superbowl.  Or the high profile “white knight” CEO hired from the outside, paid huge $’s to save a highly leveraged, declining company.  You get the idea:  Big, bold, low probability moves trying to be a catalyst for success.

I couldn’t help but think I watched one this week on the premier of one of the most successful TV franchises of all time:  AMERICAN IDOL

American Idol 2013

Fox’s American Idol kicked off its 12th season on Wednesday night with a 19% decline in viewers.  Many reasons have been given for the decline, from greater competition of similar shows, more channels,  and a general “tiring” of the brand.  19% declines are huge when you’re at the top of the ratings heap, this translates into 4 million+ fewer eyeballs.  AI brought in 3 mega stars (joining Randy Jackson) as judges in Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban and one the top female recording artists of all time, Mariah Carey Hollywood Reporter cites their compensation:  Minaj @ $8mm, Urban @$4mm and a staggering $18mm for Mariah Carey to Judge for 1 year.

Hail Mary sign #1:  Splash Big names with even bigger compensation.

“Big compensation” is always relative, and with AI pulling in north of $750mm in ad revenue, one could argue that $30mm on 3 new flashy judges is small potatoes.  I can understand the argument.

What’s the bigger risk?  I see 2 flaws.

1)  The assumption that great singers can all of the sudden be great judges of singers, which is a major difference.  How many star athletes went on to become great coaches?  Very few.

2)  The belief that these mega personalities can not only be effective judges, but the chemistry between them will not be toxic.  Building on the sports analogy again, if very few star athletes can be remembered to be great coaches of a team, can you think of 3 star athletes become coaches on ONE team!  Enough said.  This is what American Idol is trying to pull off here with this judging panel.

The great Casey Stengel famously said:  “Finding good players is easy.  Getting them to play as a team is another story.”

Teamwork matters in business.  It’s an Old-School “fundamental.”  

So for me to call the judging decisions on AI a Hail Mary is not that big of a stretch.

Regardless of where you stand on that argument, businesses are always well served to understand their customer base, and what strengths they have that generate its foundation for success.   If you’re a fan of AI, many come to mind, but a few I would consider are the “bedrock” of its success.

  • It feels like the “American Dream” playing out on TV- The unknown, everyday person gets discovered and hits it big.  They are given a shot, and they make the most of it.  Its aspiration playing out on the TV, kind of like ROCKY.
  • The stories were never-ending.  It’s not just the discovery of talent.  It’s the talent + the unique STORY.  People love a great story behind the talent (substitute talent for BRAND), and AI told the stories with great skill.
  • The Water cooler factor is huge.  How many times do you remember the conversation of last night’s episode being carried over the next day at work?  It could be the great performance or bizarre audition, but chances are people were talking.  The buzz factor matters.
  • The CUSTOMER matters.  They matter SO MUCH that they determined the next AI.  Long before social media took off, AI recognized the power of the customer, they put it front and center so much that it’s the foundation of the name and the show itself.
  • The judges mattered.  It is undeniable that the show has discovered great talent, and the judges deserve great credit for this.  Simon often comes to mind as the greatest, albeit most critical judge.

I think of the above 5 as the American Idol’s “Success Formula.”  You can argue which one of these formula elements are most important.  I personally feel that the “judging” factor, while important, is last on the list of importance.

Every successful business has their formula, or recipe.  [Continue Reading…]

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