Provocations

This is a publication of intellectual irritations, intended to be topical, even cutting edge. You’ll find ideas that can relate to your work, life, even spiritual practice, and hopefully you’ll offer some of your own for further discussion.

What’s a brand?

A brand is an indelible experience.

Like meeting your wife or husband? your high school prom? the day you were appointed CEO, Major General? names to the U.S. National team?

Not even close.

A brand is what you remember about a purchase.  You buy something, and it works; or it really works.  You go back and look for it: the pen you bought a month ago, the waiter you miss in your favorite restaurant, an appliance with a clear manual.

It’s not a name, a logo, a package, a tagline, a memorable ad campaign, a TV spokesperson.  Yes, these can all be memorable.  But they’re not yours.  They’re someone else’s.  And that doesn’t count.  What counts is you, the buyer, you remember it, you value it, and you’re willing to look for it in a lot of places until you find it.

What’s that all about?

 

 

I

What is an innovation?

Eric Ries, the author of The Lean Startup, has a reputation, as he puts it, “of some kind of innovation expert.” One problem is Ries is a bit of a Pied Piper, encouraging engineers to challenge their creations, to defend their usefulness. It used to be that the work of making a technical product was a matter of curiosity, i.e.,  what will happen if I . . . .  So you got a light bulb, a car, even a computer. But no longer. Because of Ries we test its usability, then question our findings. We build what Ries calls a minimum viable product (an MVP) and launch it to see how it fares in the real world.

All good moves; but Ries is right. He’s not an innovation expert. True, or disruptive, innovation is not simply new; it provides new value.  We need to appreciate this difference: some newbies move products to market faster and/or cheaper (HauteLook, Amazon, iTunes, NetFlix), or with more functionality (Salesforce, join.me, Adobe).  These can be simply changes in supply chain management; valuable, yes, but not truely innovative. On the other hand, Amazon was faster and cheaper, but its disruption was to get books and other goods anywhere, anytime. NetFlix was also faster and cheaper but its disruption was to get filmed drama to people on their computers or television screens. The poster child of disruptive innovation, however, did not even bother to deliver faster or cheaper.  The iPhone was easy to use but, above all, it made people happy.  Jobs knew what he was talking about when he said:  “ . . . it’s hard for [consumers] to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it.”

Money on the Table

“. . . . anyone with a credit card can rent the means of production and compete with you on a first-class basis . . . . Are you really geared up for innovation at that pace?”
Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup in an interview with the McKinsey Global Institute

The national mood is cautious. Some businesses are putting efforts into agility, adaptation, and decision. These are usually mid to large market companies, and they need to make these moves. Smaller businesses are limited, limited in scope, yes, but seemingly unable to respond to the need for new ideas. Many are limited by means and are satisfied with what their business produces. Startups can be of this mindset. A “new” business to them seems to mean simply “new” players, not a new business. This is especially true if they are bootstrapping their operations.

But Ries is on target. If one guy with a credit card can go out on a limb with an idea, who’s to stop him or even compete with him? The game that’s currently being played in any size market is stuck in midfield. Communities demand new models, new products, new responses to the challenge of the time. Don’t leave that money on the table.