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4 ways we helped entrepreneurs and business leaders around the world

Entrepreneurs and business leaders in North America, Asia, South America, Europe — we all struggle with the same challenges and fears:

  • Striking a fine balance between spending too much time developing product versus growing the business.

  • Predicting which technological disruptions we should take advantage of and which disruptions we should be worried about.

  • Finding and keeping the most talented employees.

We all have to come to terms with this new era that makes companies rise and fall quicker than ever, and where the ‘next UBER’ can suddenly appear in your industry and utterly destroy your customer base.

After working with entrepreneurs from each of those continents over the last year it became quite clear that the thousands of business articles being spammed out on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook every day were absolutely too basic to provide real education and guidance. Also, far too many so-called specialists and agencies were selling outdated concepts and approaches that will not prepare businesses for the future.

In an effort to avoid anymore click-bait articles about ‘Making your first Million’ or ‘5 things Elon Musk does every morning,’ here are 4 ways we help businesses like yours:

The disruptive design model

All buzz words aside, this model has been created after a combined fifty years by our team of observing and managing businesses struggling with the same challenges. Marketing no longer determines a company’s success and if you are unprepared for the utter disruption of old ideologies, you will lose your best employees — and unless your customers love what you are doing, you will lose them soon too.

1. Educate

Let’s be blunt: there are too many new developments, methodologies, and utterly mind-blowing case studies for anyone to keep track of on their own.

We highly encourage all business leaders to pursue an aggressive professional development program for themselves and their team. It is why our agency made education a core mandate and has presented Internationally — most recently in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

No article will ever replace the impact and inspiration of an in-person event, and we saw it repeatedly as we spoke about the future of customer engagement, branded customer experiences, and digital strategies. Educational events also add invaluable perspective by connecting people from a wide array of industries in an arena that lacks all the competitive shielding of ideas and tunnel vision of industry events.

Disruptive design’s core requires bringing a wide range of ideas and people into a forum where evolution happens on the spot. Innovation is never about someone coming up with something new, it’s always about borrowing from a variety of things succeeding in other industries.

2. Investigate

As much as Design Thinking has been made to out to be a revolutionary mindset, it is quite straight forward: ask people what they want, make something, see how they use it, ask them if it sucks, and repeat and repeat until you’ve co-designed something special and absolutely valuable.

The fact that so many companies find this methodology innovative just goes to show how unprepared many of you are for the industry-shattering quakes that new technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) will have on small and medium-sized businesses. Research and investigation are vital to your success, and I don’t mean the kind where you send out a SurveyMonkey email asking how they liked your latest feature.

The type of investigation that you’ll need to innovate is all about understanding how people use your product/service, what limits you from growth, what puts you at risk of falling into the weeds, and a clear understanding of the ecosystem your product exists in.

Ecosystem is something that many people forget to analyze. It’s an analysis of where you fit in amongst your direct competitors, against all the other products that take up vital real estate in people’s lives, and the impact your company has made within the strong emotional ties of customer communities and cultures.

3. Innovate

So, you want your next product or campaign to be innovative and land on the front page of TechCrunch. Guess what, so does everyone and it’s actually really hard to succeed at it.

Why most businesses fail at being innovative:

  • Your research is only concerned with what customers did instead of the reasons, culture, and emotion behind those decisions.

  • You don’t have the employees or leadership who are able to admit they don’t know what is best.

  • You aren’t willing to admit your company may be okay-to-terrible at 90% of what it does.

  • You’re too scared to lay your entire company’s future on one killer feature or attribute as a way to change the marketplace.

  • You’ve hired freelancers or agencies instead of partnering with them.

  • You read too many articles about how people made their millions instead of reading articles about how everyone lost thousands.

  • You think you’re too busy to think longterm.

It hurts to face the realities of what is limiting us, but once we take it all in it leaves us with the ability to actually consider what it takes to succeed. In this case, innovating is wholly dependant upon hurting a few egos and coming to terms with the process being organic and routed in your determination. Like being a good parent, leading an innovating business is a 24-hour-a-day job that you cannot fake.

We always begin the innovation process with an in-person workshop session because this process only succeeds by being true partners. Innovation starts with butting heads a bit and must end with a blazing camaraderie built on long nights fuelled by passionate conversation about where we can take these ideas together.

It must start by breaking apart the entire problem, the emotional scenario, and the culture of the customer and company. From there the combination of education and investigation ensure that process moves towards finding unique qualities, challenges, and opportunities to reshape your market. It’s a beautiful thing to see it all come together in a product, and something that we feel honoured to work with our clients on every time we do.

This process also results in your teams communicating more effectively, a much higher quality final product, and typically a much lower overall budget because you’re working with people specialized in distilling innovation out of it all.

4. Launch

The big payoff: the product or campaign launch. There’s also a big problem: many businesses fall into one of these categories when it comes to the launch phase:

  • A: You’re so excited for the launch that you create a marketing and PR plan even before you know what makes your product special, let alone innovative.

  • B: You’re so absolutely buried in the process of building the damned thing that you don’t have any plan for product adoption, market entry, and feature positioning.

This disconnect between research, education, innovation, and launch can undermine your entire organization and leave blind spots in the most obvious areas. That’s why it’s critical that your project team is cross-disciplinary and have oversight and a mandate to plan from start-to-finish.

That’s exactly why we built a team at our agency that has deep experience across each of these four areas. Specifically for the launch phase our team has created launch strategies for Smirnoff, TELUS, Nature’s Path, Hootsuite, Sleemans, and Bodog.

A great launch strategy is not measured by the marketing plan; it is the overall branded customer experience vision. In this era of ad blockers, dropping conversion rates, and desensitization to advertising, do not count on marketing to make the sale. Major brands like Nike, Lululemon, and Coco-Cola do not. Neither do your favourite Italian restaurant and grocery store. They all succeed because of that feeling they leave with you and because of the part of your culture they fill. Nike doesn’t sell shoes, they sell a vision about fitness. And your grocery relies more so on the location, quality of customer service, and science of merchandising.

For your launch strategy consider how many touch-points in your customers’ lives that you can impact. Consider creating a narrative that stretches across their daily routines and make sure your product becomes an important part of their lives before and after they make their purchase.

Published in 2017

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