The Best Defense

Defending and championing ideas is healthy right? You might say it’s part of our jobs as Brand Passionistas.

But when does defending go too far?

Perhaps when you are so bent on selling your idea that you fail to hear the constructive criticism that could actually help make it better.

It’s the fine line between commitment and falling in love with the sound of your own voice.

Sound familiar? If not, maybe you are one of the rare few who can keep their objectivity and who welcomes dissenting opinions.

Or maybe you just aren’t being truthful.

A friend of mine once gave a really impassioned speech in defense of a project in a budget approval meeting. Not surprisingly, since funding was involved, our senior management began asking some questions to make sure all angles had been considered.

Instead of taking the comments to heart and really thinking them through, he turned up his passion a few notches and ended up steam-rolling the meeting with an Oscar-worthy performance that was so full of faith and brimstone that it (temporarily) allayed the manager’s concerns.

Walking out of the meeting with him I commented on how sure he had seemed and asked him if he really believed everything he just said. He pointed to the newly empty conference room and said, “Well, to tell you the truth I am not 100% sure. But I did believe it in there.”

Eventually the concerns were raised again and he had a lot more due diligence to do before moving forward. While he initially got kudos for his passion, over time he got a reputation for being a bit of a drama queen. As a result there was often a higher level of skepticism around his ideas- whether he deserved it or not.

As part of the World Innovation Forum in NYC last week, I got the chance to meet with some people in the Soho Apple store. They talked a lot about how the store is designed to be constantly changed and improved. To accommodate new products, but also to change things around when something is not working.

One example they gave of this is the ipod bar. Sounded like a good idea when it first came up, lots of smart people at Apple were excited about it. But it turned out the customers didn’t feel a need for a separate ipod bar. So the folks at Apple changed course.

They folded the ipod bar into the general Genius bar and re-configured the liberated space to accommodate a new “Studio” where for a modest yearly fee you can spend one hour a week one on one with an Apple specialist. This has become a key draw in the stores. They didn’t defend their original idea to the death. They listened, learned and moved on to a new and better idea.

Take a step back and think about some ideas that you are championing right now. Has your passion for them gotten so deep that you are actually blind to different opinions? Even those that have some validity and with a proper analysis could actually make your idea stronger?

The ability to passionately champion your ideas can be a strength. But letting this over-ride the ability to hear and consider any criticism from others is a weakness. And this might just be the soft spot that over time gets you knocked out.

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

Have you ever gone too far in defending an idea?

“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?

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?

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?

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?