Grow your business (but never lose the startup mentality)

Here’s what we know for sure. As any business starts to have success, it grows. And the bigger it gets, the more people are brought in. More people = more bureaucracy, more meetings, more layers, more rules, a slowdown in movement and, well, a marked increase in B.S. If you’re not careful, this all drives you further away from the passion and kick ass mentality that was fueling your success in the first place. So how to avoid this?

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Avoid the complacency that comes with growth with a DISTINCT (NOT EMPTY) COMMITMENT to preserving a start up mentality (even if you are not a startup). What does this mean?
This means committing to (and expecting) a push for innovation in areas beyond just your core product or service. As you grow, your organization’s DNA needs to push to find innovation and efficiencies in every facet…day to day operations, logistics, processes, accounting, IT, sales, etc., etc. This is just as important as core product innovation. So push for it. Expect it. In every nook and cranny of the organization.
This means genuinely encouraging people to question the status quo. Allow people to question processes if…but only if…they have a take on how to make things better…or a passion to find a solution.
This means making sure everyone (not just key people) has a constant touch with the outside world…with customers, constituents and what’s actually going on in the world. An out of touch team leads to an out of touch business.
This means eliminating unnecessary meetings (but keeping key collaboration and communication)
This means keeping teams small and nimble and then staying out of their way.

In support of the above, this ultimately means carving out time for people to actually think and learn and act. As in a startup, people must be allowed uninterrupted blocks of time to formulate new ideas and approaches that make the organization better and more efficient. This increases individual job satisfaction, drives collective morale and ultimately helps the business continue to thrive. In other words, you can grow the entity out of startup mode, but never, ever take the startup mentality out of the entity.

About the author: Eric Greene is a principal at Elevation (it’s different up here). Elevation is an innovation firm that specializes in A-Z new product/service/growth strategy development (including guerrilla research, opportunity I.D., brainstorming, concept development, industrial design, prototyping and engineering). To learn more, go to: http://elevationid.com/

Which comes first – the target or the product?

Should you come up with your new technology, product or service first and then retrofit it to a target? Or vice versa? Like the chicken and the egg, that is the question. So what’s the answer?

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While the answer may seem fuzzy (sorry – baby chick pun), this much we know for sure:
• All too often, organizations and entrepreneurs come up with something…a seed…a concept…a technology…a business…whatever. It seems cool, so they launch it and then try to find an audience for it, banking on the notion that the proper customer set will emerge. But way too often this doesn’t fly (come to think of it, chickens aren’t real good flyers either).
• And then there’s targets themselves. Each target flock (okay, enough with the bird references) has different needs, different problems, talks in different lingo, has a different set of urgency, different emotional needs and a different time frame. Not to mention a different amount of money they’re willing to spend.

So, here’s an idea to incubate: given the above, the smart play is to pick and understand your target first and then create your product SPECIFICALLY FOR THOSE PEOPLE. Catering to exact needs, speaking in just the right language, etc. will create more spark, resonate more strongly and ultimately increase your odds of success.

About the author: Eric Greene is a principal at Elevation (it’s different up here). Elevation is an innovation firm that specializes in A-Z new product/service/growth strategy development (including guerrilla research, opportunity I.D., brainstorming, concept development, industrial design, prototyping and engineering). To learn more, go to: http://elevationid.com/

 

Need to rethink? Head to Monkey Town.

If you’re feeling the urge to rethink any aspect of your business model, product or service, you should head to Monkey Town (http://www.monkeytown4.com/). Monkey Town is dinner-tainment (my word, not theirs) re-imagined for the electronic age, complete with cutting edge modernist cuisine, computer-generated animation, multichannel video and other software-centered art. It’s a moving venue that started in NYC and that now relocates itself approximately every 3 months into different vacant warehouse space in a different city before moving on again – bringing world class chefs and virtual artists along for the ride. In doing so, it reveals a lot about rethinking our own business models, creating intrigue and demand. How so?

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Monkey Town is all about re-thinking the status quo and creating output unique enough to stand apart, yet scarce enough to stimulate its own demand (it’s here…and then it’s gone. It’s cool…everyone’s buzzing about it…but you better get in on it while you can).

If your business (or product or service) needs to reinvent or stimulate new demand in any aspect, there’s a powerful technique you can us to RETHINK in much the same way. It’s called the Great What If Game, and it works like this:
1. Generate a truly random “What If” list approximately 30-40 items long, as in what if we: make it more modern, make it more colorful, add an element of mystery, make it more digital, make it more mobile, make it fit a narrower target, make it cooler, make it simpler, re-position it, add features, make it more swank, create value add, etc., etc., etc.
2. Then, simply apply the list to your situation in order to re-think everything.

In the case of Monkey Town, such re imagining of the status quo (breaking rules along the way) might yield just such results as described above. The question is: are there any elements of your own business model that could use similar re-thought? If there are, define your own status quo – and then make a monkey out of it.

About the authors: Eric Greene & Keith Poulson are principals at Elevation (it’s different up here). We are an innovation firm that specializes in A-Z new product/service/growth strategy development (including guerrilla research, opportunity I.D., brainstorming, concept development, industrial design, prototyping and engineering). To learn more, go to: http://elevationid.com/

Want better research? Get your hands dirty.

Want more out of your research? Get your hands dirty.  Go guerrilla.  Go to where your customers and prospects are are.  Hang out where your target does real things in real-time under real conditions.  This is where you can have casual, comfortable, genuine conversations.  This is where you can walk in the shoes.  This is where your consumers are their absolute selves and act accordingly.  And where you can make observations and gather subtle insights that consumers would never even think to articulate, let alone be comfortable enough to mention in a more sterile or artificial research setting.

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By way of example, on a client assignment awhile back, we spent a couple of weeks with dog owners.  We hung out in dog parks, backyards and trails.  We tried products and lived life alongside people and their pets.  We learned a TON by experiencing what consumers experience…and by simply chatting people up.  We also learned by observing subtleties and taking note of the occasional frustrated look on a dog owner’s face…a cringe…a change in body language – things that people never think to say, even when you ask, but that are real.

The result: deeper insights that drove several new product innovations, with incremental national shelf space to match (and competitors who never saw any of it coming).  This can, and has worked with a variety of products, services, technology and start ups in all kinds of settings.  Just show up. Get your hands dirty.  And see what happens.

About the authors: Eric Greene & Keith Poulson are principals at Elevation (it’s different up here).  We are an innovation firm that specializes in A-Z new product/service/growth strategy development (including guerrilla research, opportunity I.D., brainstorming, concept development, industrial design, prototyping and engineering).  To learn more, go to: http://elevationid.com/

Focus groups pretty much suck

The notion that focus groups pretty much suck has crossed your mind.  Only now someone is saying it out loud.  Having spent over two decades in the innovation (new product, new service), marketing, growth strategy, entrepreneurial and industrial design spaces and having sat through countless, mind-numbing focus groups, I’ve learned the hard way.

Here are reasons why the traditional focus group may just be the LAST PLACE ON EARTH to gain game-changing insights into your consumers and their needs:

  • ImageTraditional focus group rooms have are dull, artificial, sterile and have two way glass.  The real world (outside of XXX shops and select Las Vegas venues), doesn’t have two way glass or any of the other features just mentioned.
  • Most groups will have a Bossy-Pants, gotta talk early and often, know it all who sets the tone for the rest of the group.  Regardless of what others think, many respond in agreement with said bossy-pants just to fit in.  Worse yet, others then just shut down altogether.  This toxic stew gains you close to zero in terms of real world, usable insight.
  • People don’t make purchases or decisions in a group that sits around a conference room table.  They think and act alone under real conditions in real settings.
  • It doesn’t help whatsoever that most people have a really hard time telling you exactly what they want in the first place.  If they could, innovation, “the cool factor” and new product/service development wouldn’t be such a damn riddle.  The unnatural, uncomfortable focus group setting only exacerbates this problem.

In summary, if you want to be bored silly, get fat eating too many backroom M & M’s, burn your budget and LEARN LESS THAN YOU SHOULD ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMERS, by all means continue to rely solely on traditional focus groups.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to be bored silly, get fat or blow money, add in some guerrilla to your research.  Nothing will help you see the challenges, feel the frustrations, gain insights and uncover opportunities faster than spending time with your customers/prospects in natural settings where they actually use products and services, experience brands and live life in real time.

More on this next time.

About the authors: Eric Greene & Keith Poulson are principals at Elevation (it’s different up here).  We are an innovation firm that specializes in A-Z new product/service/growth strategy development (guerrilla research, opportunity I.D., brainstorming, concept development, industrial design, prototyping, engineering).  To learn more, go to: http://elevationid.com/

Lessons from a lone goose

You know how geese tend to run (and fly and gather and poop) in flocks? Well there’s one goose in the field along the road by my house that does things differently.  While the other geese have been hanging out nearby in groups of 10, 20, 30 or more, “Gandolph Goose” (as I’ve named him) just wants to stand alone.  And in doing so, Gandolph the lone goose has taught me some unexpected lessons about innovation and marketing.

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Gandolph has been hanging out solo in the field for a couple of weeks now.  Rest assured, he’s healthy, no hurt.  He can fully fly, function and take care of himself.  Yet still he chooses to stand apart from the nearby flock.  And in doing so, the damnedest thing has happened.  I notice him.  Everyone notices him.  People stop in their cars to notice him.  They snap off pictures.  Somebody fed him bread crumbs.  I saw someone else roll down a window to say hi.  There was a little kid who tried to chase him.  even other geese from further down the field stop by to visit. Gandolph lets them hang out for a few minutes, but then moves several yards away to be solo again.

The punch line here? The mere act of separating from the flock…and staying separate…has resulted in our lone goose GETTING NOTICED AND GAINING OUTSIZED ATTENTION while nobody looks twice at the geese in the larger flocks. Doesn’t this same insight apply to your products, services, strategy, marketing, sales efforts, communications, website, user interface, app, promotions, whatever? The mere act of standing apart and staying apart makes you much harder to ignore. And what’s good for the goose is good for your business.

 

 

 

 

Sniffed some Play Doh (smells like innovation)

Sniffed some Play-Doh the other day. You should really go out and do this right away.  Why? The effect is an instant, unmistakable, highly positive association with childhood.  The experience is delightful and conjures up all kinds of great memories.  It also conjures up important insights about differentiation, innovation and competitive advantage.

Play-DohOne of the brilliant things about Play-Doh is the built-in delight.  That powerfully distinct “smell of childhood and fun” you get when you open the can.  This powerful instant queue thrills customers in ways that stand it FAR APART from similar competitors. Think about it.  There are scores of similar products.  But there is only one Play-Doh.  They dominate without much marketing.  Savvy marketers, new product/service developers, designers, retailers, restauranteurs,  web and software developers often take the same approach.  By building in powerful touches…from any of comfortably familiar, cool, fun, emotional or in other ways delightful…you cement differentiation and customer loyalty that features and functions by themselves just can’t match.

Obviously, not everything we need to know about differentiation and competitive advantage is learned from kindergarten.  But this much is certain: put someone in charge of developing and integrating queues and touches that bring the cool, fun or delight – and your differentiation and competitive advantage will be elevated.