What’s your brand backstory?

The accelerating nature of technology and media convergence will have a resultant entropic effect relating to the perception of “brand” within and outside an organization. This premise will underpin several forthcoming blog posts. This blog post will discuss how this entropic effect affects brand storytelling.

Craft your backstory

For easily a decade 1000Watt Consulting and Matthew Ferrara & Company have been challenging real estate organizations to define and embrace their unique stories. From executive tier discussions centering on core values and culture, previous and present technology choices, to operational issues, they have helped elevate their clients and the real estate industry at large in immeasurable ways. A decade of listening to these auteurs—accompanied at times with the privilege of sharing a dais here and there with them—has been particularly instructive around the concept of “brand.”

However, it was not until recently listening to Marc Davison (of 1000Watt) and Matthew Ferrara on two separate occasions that I fully realized some of the foundational constructs underlying a “brand,” particularly its “story.” Both occassions (at the Wothshop 5 and Leading Real Estate Companies of the World conferences) focused on the core elements of storytelling and brand narratives. In particular, Davison elucidated the power of the backstory of a brand in his unveiling of the new Harry Norman Realtors web and mobile presence (soon to launch publicly). What I took away from his presentation is that the backstory of a brand functions as an anchoring element and values-driven catalyst to all facets of a brand’s expression—internally (privately) and externally (publicly). It’s the backstory of a brand that is one of the most critical components of ensuring brand consistency across the new media convergent universe.

Media convergence theory posits that:

[C]hanges in communications and information technologies reshape and change everyday life, altering patterns of creation, consumption, learning, and interpersonal interaction. New technology redefines media content and alters human interaction with social institutions such as government, education, and commerce. citation

Implicit within this definition is the concept of entropy. And as the impacts of media convergence continue to manifest (e.g., more time spent on media and devices than there is in a 24-hour day ) the potential for attenuated, particlized, and repulsive effects on brand messaging increases. Without some tethering or unifying aether, brand continuity will decrease, brand consistency will atrophy, and consumer trust of your brand will wither.

So what is this unifying aether? The backstory of your brand.

A useful definition of backstory is:

[A] history or background created for a fictional character in a motion picture or television program…similar background information about a real person or thing that promotes fuller understanding of it. citation

The latter half of this definition is the salient element for branding considerations. This element was poignantly made clear by Davison as he discussed the brand-level archetypes and triptych-like features of the new Harry Norman branding with the audience at the 2016 Leading Real Estate Companies of the World conference. While touring a branch office, he noticed a portrait of Emmaline Norman, who founded the company in 1939. Inspired, Davison began digging into the historical record and story of the company, unearthing several core values and cultural facets (artifacts?) that implicitly grounded the company from its inception. From these facets, 1000Watt created linguistic and visual narratives that described and framed the company in a new light. This revitalized linguistic and visual symmetry, interacting holistically, created the backstory for a new expression of the Harry Norman brand.

So how does this backstory ameliorate the potential negative or complicating impacts of media convergence? In its purest, elemental nature this backstory is device, medium, and platform agnostic. And this is the crux of the argument. In this elemental form, the backstory remains unaltered and unaffected by accelerating changes in media and technology. The brand backstory operates as a sustainable catalyst for consistency and continuity around your brand.

Photo credit: Very Quiet

Zero Moment of Trust

Ask almost any real estate professional what compels a client to work with them or personally refer them, and that professional will probably say something like “They trust me.” This is also backed up by research from the National Association of Realtors (see Exhibits 4-17 and 7-8, 2013 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers). But more often than not, this “trust” is predicated upon in-real-life, face-to-face interactions. The challenge, however, for modern real estate practitioners is how to imbue a sense of trust via a mobile or web presence. What is the Zero Moment of Trust for a prospective client to make the decision to contact or divulge personal information to a real estate brand or agent via a mobile or web interface? How does a professional break through the scrim of the screen to convey this sense of trust?

Zero Moment of Trust
Zero Moment of Trust

The Zero Moment of Trust concept builds upon Google’s concepts around Zero Moment of Truth (“ZMOT”). ZMOT describes how a set of search-related activities, from whatever device, informs a consumer at the point of decision regarding a product purchase. In previous years before mobile commerce was so prevalent, this search-influenced and aided decision making timeline could extend to hours and even days. However, within a mobile commerce environment–enhanced and influenced by mobile-enabled search–a consumer’s purchase decision making timeline is near instantaneous.

For example, a decade ago a consumer, sitting in front of a home computer, likely would have browsed through several websites, over several hours, as part of her decision making process. Whereas today that same consumer could be sitting in a cafe enjoying a cortado and decide to purchase a pair of shoes, use Google to conduct a search, sift through relevant search results, find a nearby boutique as well as sift through Zappos results, compare both retail outlets via their online presence and ratings, and decide to purchase via Zappos…all within the time it takes for her to finish her cortado. This latter scenario effectively captures the core concepts embodied in Google’s ZMOT argument. And similar to shopping for shoes, consumers use search to find properties for sale or rent as well as find agents with whom they may want to represent them. But it is at this point that ZMOT breaks down in real estate. For ZMOT is a great construct for how consumers make product purchasing decisions, but it is a weak construct for how clients decide to work with a professional. And it is at this moment that Zero Moment of Trust comes into play.

The client-professional relationship is centered around trust. Thus, there is a second layer of trust-based decision making activities a consumer undertakes in evaluating a professional. Further, much of this evaluation occurs within mobile and web related contexts. And for the real estate professional, whose first interaction with a client is more often than not nowadays bound to these contexts, how trustworthy he or she appears within these contexts often determines whether a prospective client will contact them. Thus, the question becomes how can a real estate professional immediately convey a sense of trust within these contexts? How can a real estate professional leverage Zero Moment of Trust? The answer to this question resides within the realms of user experience (“UX”) and user interface (“UI”) design and how to leverage mobile and web trust indicators.

According to these research reports, How do users evaluate the credibility of websites (.pdf), An overview of online trust: concepts, elements, and implications, and What instills trust? A qualitative study of phishing there are three primary mobile-web trust indicators: performance, design, and information. Performance trust indicators center around platform speed, page load times, and overall functionality. Design trust indicators center around balanced UI, ease of navigation, continuity, consistency of UX across devices, and intuitiveness. Information trust indicators center around simplicity of message, forthrightness (i.e., no trickery), usefulness, and client ratings and testimonials. These trust indicators must all sync as an integrated whole to immediately convey a sense of trust to a prospective client, which will prompt this client to do something (for example, request a showing, contact an agent for a CMA, etc). To help illustrate these concepts, following are visual examples as to how some brands outside of and within real estate are using trust indicators to impute trust to viewers:



Take-away: Balanced design and ratings directly on the booking page imply trust.

Michael Saunders & Company

Michael Saunders & Company

Take-away: The nexus between elegant design and the nuance of language (e.g., use of “Serene beaches” rather than the location of these beaches to enable a visitor to search these locations).

These brands explicitly or implicitly leverage Zero Moment of Trust principles. I encourage you to browse through the two websites mentioned above (via your desktop/laptop, tablet, and mobile phone), paying particular attention to how they use design and language to convey a sense of trust. These two brands have leveraged several trust indicators to gain and maintain marketshare and win consumer mindshare.

Using research circles to develop innovative product and services for an aging baby-boomer population

This research article, Laggards as Innovators? Old Users as Designers of New Services & Service Systems,  challenges the notion that elderly users of the social web are generally laggards in this medium and, thus, not viable sources of relevant input when using service design methodologies to design products and services that meet their needs. Service design

[I]s the activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between service provider and customers. The purpose of service design methodologies is to design according to the needs of customers or participants, so that the service is user-friendly, competitive and relevant to the customers.” Wikipedia citation

“New service design” basically incorporates social networking and crowd-sourcing concepts into this process. The authors of the study found that a widespread view existed amongst service system designers that elderly or senior users were “technophobes” or technology laggards and, thus, had no relevant input when using modern service design processes. Yet, there is an under-served market with respect to the aging baby-boomer population. The researchers argue that there is a great opportunity to service this market using human-centered design processes in a variety of industries across several product classes. For example, there are several unsatisfied needs for this market that “relate to fundamental aspects of a dignified life, such as being able to buy furniture they can use in their homes, being able to stay in their neighborhood in the center of town and in generally leading as independent and normal a daily life as possible.”

The researchers offer several tips on how to involve the aging consumer segment into the design process using the concept of a “research circle”. The premise of the research circle differs from a focus group in the sense that a focus group is designed to get “get feedback from people on their attitudes towards new products, services or ideas” and is a fairly structured process. A research circle is more long term in nature, and employs a researcher who facilitates collaborative group problem solving. The figure below describes the process:

Stages applied based on research circle method and milestones
Stages applied based on research circle method and milestones

The researchers point out that the process they’ve defined is not geared towards getting aging users to adopt a new product or service. Rather, the process is to gain insights and information from this group so as to deliver innovative products and services that meet their needs.

Factors underpinning creative leadership and innovative leadership

What constitutes creative leadership? What constitutes innovative leadership? How do these factors–creativity and innovation–influence a firm’s competitive advantage? These two articles, IBM’s Capitalizing on Complexity and Organizational Creativity: Building a Business Ba-Haus?, provide interesting insights.

In a previous post I discussed how firms can foster a culture of creativity and innovation. Innovative firms nurture the following:

  • High levels of interaction, discussion, and debate
  • Interpersonal and intergroup relations defined by trust, cooperation, and a sense of safety
  • Senior management that’s open to new ideas and improved ways of working, and proves its openness by encouraging such actions and funding them when meritorious

Indeed, IBM found that mid-market CEO’s consider creativity as one the most important leadership qualities. Creative leaders encourage experimentation, calculated risk taking, and are more willing to take on complex issues to drive deeper strategic and systemic changes. Further, these CEOs consider creativity as an essential element for successful leadership in an increasingly complex business environment. The IBM study found that creative leaders:

  • Invite disruptive innovation
  • Encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks
  • Are open-minded and inventive in expanding their management and communications styles so as to engage with a new generation of employees, partners and customers

In the Bauhaus article cited above, the authors point to the following factors as influencing a culture–a “climate”–of creativity:

  • Involvement: To what degree are people challenged, involved and committed to making contributions to the success of the organization?
  • Freedom: To what degree are people able to decide how to do their jobs, take independent initiatives and make decisions?
  • Trust: To what degree do people trust each other, as well as feeling safe in being genuinely open and honest with each other?
  • Time: To what degree do people have the time to think, explore and test new ideas and ways of doing things?
  • Playfulness: To what degree do people feel it is OK to have fun when working, be playful and humorous?
  • Conflict: To what degree do people engage in interper- sonal conflict, prestige and territory struggles?
  • Support: To what degree do people encourage, warmly receive and professionally support ideas?
  • Debate: To what degree do people frequently share, con- sider and discuss a variety of viewpoints?
  • Risk Taking: To what degree do people regard failure as an opportunity to learn and feel able to take risks in trying new things?
The factors above foster a culture of success by creating a firm environ where employees AND management feel comfortable making mistakes and are rewarded for calculated risk taking. Further, these factors promote an overall sense of trust and compassion, which in turn promotes a culture of excellence, discipline, and execution.

Photo credit: 50 Watts

Speaking on visionary innovation

I have the pleasure of speaking at the GIL Silicon Valley innovation and leadership summit, hosted by Frost & Sullivan. My session focuses on developing an integrated IP focused organization, which relates to fostering a culture of creativity and innovation. Here is a list of core research I’ll discuss during my session:


Creating agile entrepreneurial teams promotes creativity and innovation

This Vanity Fair and Forbes article details how Microsoft stifled innovation in product design and development by using a rigid and hierarchical performance review process. Microsoft used a review process known as “stack ranking”, which forces each business unit designate a percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average performers, and poor performers.

Here’s what a former Microsoft employee said about the process:

If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review[.]…It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.

Interesting how a fairly routine process like performance reviews can seemingly have a profound impact on a company’s success. In a 2009 post I detailed steps companies can take to foster a culture of creativity and innovation; creative and innovative companies have (1) high levels of interaction, discussion, and debate, (2) interpersonal and intergroup relations defined by trust, cooperation, and a sense of safety, and (3) senior management that’s open to new ideas and improved ways of working, and proves its openness by encouraging such actions and funding them when meritorious.

Similarly, this recent research details how small firms can effectively compete with larger firms when the small firm CEO works closely with internal teams. The researchers found that if a firm wants to excel at product innovation then the CEO should work closely with R&D department employees. If a firm wants to excel at process innovation, then the CEO should work closely with managers and non-managerial employees in the production department. The optimal mix, the researchers found, is where a firm creates small agile teams within the respective divisions and the CEO is routinely involved in leading the initiatives these teams are tasked with tackling. The researchers, however, did not measure the effectiveness or quality of the innovation output, only that ideation generally increased. Nevertheless, it seems to me that a small firm would have a better shot at out-performing its competitors with a surplus of ideas rather than a dearth of such.

Photo credit: Budzlife

User participation in a QR quirky world

This video, The World Park Campaign, illustrates an excellent use of QR to not only drive a marketing result but reward users’ participation with something delightful. The focus of the campaign was an immersive marketing experience to drive wider participation and learning within a NYC park.

Similarly, read about what Bjork is doing to take participation with music to new levels. What Bjork has done is create a way to interact with her music via an app; for example:

Bjork fans with iPads or iPhones (there’s no Android version yet) can download a main app for Biophilia that’s free. You tap on it and open up to a black background with white, glowing starlike objects. Using your fingers to swipe and tap, the universe expands and turns, and bits of music and songs emerge.

Each song has its own star. You tap on it, and you can buy its app for $1.99 from the iTunes Store. Each one has essays about music and science, and each interacts with its song in a different way. Take “Thunderbolt,” whose arpeggiated bass line you can change by tapping on a lightning icon.

“You change the speed of the arpeggio, or the range,” Bjork says. “Basically, you’re like this crazy lightning bass player.

It’s the participation economy. Participatory media is the message (visit here for reference point).

Disruptive technology and its impact

The research article Demystifying Disruption: A New Model for Understanding and Predicting Disruptive Technologies delves into several topics related to understanding and predicting disruptive technologies. An interesting facet of the article is how it outlined three domains of disruption: technology disruption (when a new techology outperforms a dominant technology), firm disruption (when the market share of a firm leveraging  a new technology exceeds that of the largest firm using a previously dominant technology), demand disruption (when the total share of products in the market based on a new technology exceeds that of products based on a previously dominant technology). The authors also focused on the method of attack:
A lower attack occurs when, at the time of its entry, a new technology performs worse than the dominant technology on the primary dimension of performance. An upper attack occurs when, at the time of its entry, a new technology performs better than the dominant technology on the primary dimension of performance
The authors tested the following hypotheses:
  1. Technologies using a lower attack (potentially disruptive) come primarily from entrants
  2. Technologies using an upper attack (sustaining breakthrough) come primarily from incumbents
  3. Technologies using a lower attack (potentially disruptive) are priced lower than dominant technologies at entry
  4. The hazard of disruption is higher from an entrant than from an incumbent
  5. The hazard of firm or demand disruption is higher if a new technology uses a lower attack
  6. The hazard of disruption is higher if a new technology is introduced by a small firm
  7. The hazard of disruption is lower if a new technology is introduced by a small firm
  8. The hazard of disruption is higher if a new technology is lower priced than the dominant technology at entry

What the authors discovered is that contrary to popular belief, incumbents in certain markets drive disruption as frequently as new entrants. In fact, in their study the authors found that:

only 8% of all technology disruptions and 25% of all firm disruptions were caused by entrants using a lower attack

– and –

although 47% of all technologies adopt a lower attack, only 16% of all technologies cause technology disruption and only14% of all technologies cause firm disruption via a lower attack

Interestingly, the authors note that a firm’s internal culture is responsible for undertaking an attack, rather than responding to an external threat. That’s why creating a culture of innovation and creativity is a key factor in successfully introducing a sustainable disruptive technology.

Google+ Integrated into Google Apps, Huh?

This morning I envisioned a headline on Mashable that could, someday, read: “Finally…Google+ Integrated into Google Apps”. The Enterprise Google Apps community has been waiting months for this to happen.
Google+ surfing in an ocean of business
Surf with Google+
And still…we…wait. Once this happens, though, here are some ways Google+ will rock my business world:
  • Allow me to use one network (rather than several networks) to communicate with nearly 2,000 sales associates. This necessarily will increase my personal productivity. And with this productivity increase I’ll have more time to focus on providing more value to these 2,000 sales associates.
  • Give these nearly 2,000 sales associates one network to use (rather than several networks) to collaborate, share ideas, and help each other. They are THE community. Google+ in Apps will further unleash the collective brilliance of this community.
  • Leverage the Google+ social nervous system to achieve several business objectives by aligning fundamental community management concepts, principles, and processes within a social business ecosystem (as brilliantly illustrated by @davidarmano).
The tectonic plates of Google’s product development teams need to align and unleash the Pangaea of a social business platform for its Enterprise clients. Sooner rather than later, please, Google. Opportunity awaits us both.
Photo credit: gordontarpley

Creating a culture of participation while leveraging a culture of creativity and innovation

Previously I wrote about creating a culture of creativity and innovation. The salient points to remember in such an initiative are: foster a high level interaction, discussion, debate and have a leadership team that nurtures such an idea generating ecosystem.


Related to this topic is a fascinating research article I found that focuses on creating a culture of participation (.pdf). The article discusses collaborative design projects (as in architecture, landscape design, etc), but the premises are transcendent to many industries:

  1. Creativity is an inherently collaborative and social activity and social-technical infrastructures facilitate such by organizing people around shared concerns as opposed to shared location
  2. Diversity (as facilitated by shared concerns) promotes new ideas, insights, etc, by building bridges between local knowledge sources and exploiting “conceptual collisions” (related to Von Hippel’s studies in innovation at MIT).

The article elaborates on a couple of case studies and points out the following areas for further exploration: (1) the role of curators—as supported through technological infrastructure—to organize “living information repositories” (see related article on how the BBC uses data mining principles to enable more informed curatorial choices) and (2) enhanced tagging mechanisms that support heuristic knowledge discovery activities.

Additionally, there are two blog posts that relate to the themes raised above, courtesy of Daniel Rothamel and Rob Hahn respectively, essentially “create, then debate”  and “embrace your inner auteur“.

Photo: Håkan Dahlström



Research from CISCO, innovation in business intelligence services, and predictive Web data mining

Below are three articles discussing emerging analytical theories on the nexus between Web+Social+Mobile:

Executive Primer: CISCO CIO Summit (.pdf): Excellent primer on how The Cloud, generally, is affecting enterprise IT strategic direction. Two gems: Chapter 6 “Together, the Customer Is Everywhere and Everyone” and Chapter 10 “Scenario Planning: Are You Ready?”.

Business Intelligence 2.0:  Are we there yet? (.pdf): Excellent paper focusing on innovation in business intelligence; includes and excellent benefits analysis chart.

Toward Emerging Topic Detection for Business Intelligence: Predictive Analysis of ‘Meme’ Dynamics (.pdf): This is for analytical geeks only (:-D). The paper discusses the problem of monitoring the Web to spot emerging memes. Essentially, using predictive algorithms to tease out future memes, which would be useful to brand managers in terms of seeding current campaigns with flavors of the future as dictated by the algorithm. The risk is that it can get a bit tautological.


Three top sources discussing collaborative and collective innovation strategies and theories

As you head into 2011, here are three sources to get your innovation game plan together:

In the research paper, Collective Intelligence for Competitive Advantage: Crowdsourcing and Open Innovation, the author–a global transition manager at Nike Inc–conducts an exhaustive analysis of current research on the topic of leveraging crowdsourcing concepts and open innovation principles to deliver innovative products and services. The author makes the following recommendations:

Recommendation # 1 – Focus on creating an innovative organizational culture, in which experimentation and failure are supported and encouraged. Use the seven lessons of innovation by Koulopoulos (2009) as the guide.

Recommendation # 2 – Create a collective intelligence (CI) system by answering the four primary questions: Who is performing the task? Why are they doing it? What is being accomplished? How is it being done?

Recommendation # 3 – Focus on the utilization of an open innovation business model by developing a plan for and defining the primary tenets of the model, to include (a) value proposition, (b) market segmentation, (c) value chain, (d) revenue generation, and (e) competitive strategy.

Recommendation # 4 – Map out the four types of innovation: 1) Neutral, 2) Positive, 3) Negative, and 4) Open. An organization should operate in all 4 quadrants, but for market leadership open innovation is the most critical (Koulopoulos, 2009).

Recommendation # 5 – Understand how the CI system can be deployed into the value chain where internal and external knowledge is leveraged. Define how the CI system will integrate with the current value chain and which parts exist to support the system and which elements need to be developed.

In the paper, Organizing Innovation: Complementarities between Cross-Functional Teams (.pdf), researchers found that deploying cross-functional teams across new product/systems development processes yields positive gains for consumers and companies. The researchers also found that marketing departments are critical components of an innovative-driven cross-functional team because of the customer-centric views customarily espoused by such departments.

In the Harvard Business Review podcast, The Economics of Mass Collaboration (~ 15 min) the commentator, Don Tapscott, author of Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World, discusses the concepts of how companies can harness mass collaboration to deliver innovative products and services.

User experience and product innovation

Recently, at the Web 2.0 summit, Palm’s CEO said (as reported in All Things Digital):

Palm created the PDA space with the Pilot and the smartphone space after it with the Treo…So by birthright, Palm should have owned the smartphone market, but it just lost its way.

I’ve been intrigued by this facet of the “smartphone era”: Palm’s, NOKIA’s, Motorola’s whole job—theoretically—was to understand the needs, wants, desires of the mobile phone user. Theoretically they each spent millions of dollars a year in R&D, consumer research, prototyping, product development, etc. Yet Apple smoked them all. Apple focuses on the user experience—from the moment a user decides to enter Apple’s commerce stream, to the moment a user opens a box, to the moment a user first sets up a device to the moment a user interacts that device. With Apple, product = experience and experience = product. It seems a superior user experience—a 365 degree, multi-dimensional experience—is the ultimate killer product/app.

Information sharing across the social web: usability, minimalist design, and consumer choice

This article in the Atlantichttp://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/11/the-undesigned-web/65458/ by Dylan Tweney (@dylan20http://twitter.com/#!/dylan20) essentially argues that as consumers adopt a minimalist approach towards reading, sharing (i.e., reformatting content to meet their needs and the needs of their social sphere), and generally consuming content (information), devices like the iPad will engender even more pressure on publishers align usabilty concepts with sound information architecture concepts. Indeed, the iPad imbues a sensual, tactile element to information consumption. Fingertips are one of the most sensitive areas on our bodieshttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merkel_nerve_ending, and by virtually touching, massaging, moving, aligning, etc, information via the iPad transfers a degree of intimacy unmatched by even printed material. Tweney seems to argue that the tactil nature of iPad represents an inflection point in future information design, publishing, and consumption.
As a slight counter-point to Tweney’s missive, this articlehttp://www.fastcodesign.com/1662630/is-undesigned-the-next-great-web-trend-fat-chance argues that Tweney misses the point by claiming that design is dead and makes some excellent points:
“The future is all about designing for multiple use cases[.]”
“Digital design isn’t fading, but it is changing: to keep pace with evolving technology, to drive new economics, to satisfy users’ dynamic desires. Indeed, the fact that we tend to call them “users” in the first place–instead of viewers, readers, or audiences–is important to keep in mind when considering the role or future of digital design.”
The author, John Pavlushttp://twitter.com/johnpavlus, cites many useful sources to support his argument that a minimalist-centric interface is actually the result a complex design-thinking (ala, a Ferrari on the outside appears simple and elegant but underneath the hood it’s a complex machine). Similarly, a minimalist approach can actually be brilliantly enhanced by restricting consumer choice by presenting consumers with well thought-out, curated, and highly selective choices (ala 37 Signals). Finally, both Tweney and Pavlus are joined by researchers who are conducting some very interesting research on this topic: The Paradox of Simplicity: Effects of User Interface Design on Perceptions and Preference of Interactive Systemshttp://aisel.aisnet.org/mcis2010/30/ (registration required), A Model of Experience Test for Web Designershttp://eprints.qut.edu.au/18371/1/c18371.pdf, A Model for Understanding Social Commercehttp://proc.conisar.org/2010/pdf/1511.pdf
Photo credit: seier+seierhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/seier/493929328/
This article in the Atlantic by Dylan Tweney (@dylan20) essentially argues that as consumers adopt a minimalist approach towards reading, sharing, and generally consuming content (information), devices like the iPad will put even more pressure on publishers to align usability concepts with sound information architecture concepts. Indeed, the iPad imbues a sensual, tactile element to information consumption.
Fingertips are one of the most sensitive areas on our bodies, and the iPad transfers to a consumer a degree of intimacy by enabling him/her to virtually touch, massage, move, and align information in a very personal way. Tweney seems to argue that the tactile nature of an iPad represents an inflection point in future information design, publishing, and consumption.
As a slight counter-point to Tweney’s missive, this article argues that Tweney misses the point in claiming that “traditional” digital design is dead; as counterpoints, the author points out:
“The future is all about designing for multiple use cases[.]”
“Digital design isn’t fading, but it is changing: to keep pace with evolving technology, to drive new economics, to satisfy users’ dynamic desires. Indeed, the fact that we tend to call them “users” in the first place–instead of viewers, readers, or audiences–is important to keep in mind when considering the role or future of digital design.”
The author, John Pavlus, cites many useful sources in his article to support his argument that minimalist-centric interface design is actually the result of complex design-thinking. Similarly, a minimalist approach can actually be brilliantly enhanced by restricting consumer choice by presenting consumers with well thought-out, curated, and highly selective choices (ala 37 Signals theories). Finally, both Tweney and Pavlus are joined by researchers who are conducting interesting studies on this topic: The Paradox of Simplicity: Effects of User Interface Design on Perceptions and Preference of Interactive Systems (registration required), A Model of Experience Test for Web Designers, A Model for Understanding Social Commerce.
Photo credit: seier+seier

A simple lesson from Steve Jobs

Thank you to @sherrychris for finding this article on Steve Jobs. What I like about this article is that it delves—slightly–into Jobs’ mindset via an interview with his “last” boss. It’s a fascinating romp. Here’s one key take-aways that were meaningful to me:
“What makes Steve’s methodology different from everyone else’s is that he always believed the most important decisions you make are not the things you do, but the things you decide not to do.”
Very simple concept, yet powerful. Reading through the interview we learn that Steve regularly met with the leader of SONY and was given a prototype of the first SONY Walkman. And the first thing he did was take it apart to look at its component parts. I can image Jobs making a list of “not likes” with the Walkman over a decade, which yielded the iPod. The same can plausibly be said for a mobile phone too. I can imagine Jobs using NOKIA and Motorola products and making a list of “not likes”, which yielded the iPhone. Focus on making a “not like” list to improve your product offering or client service delivery. Who knows, maybe you’ll revolutionize an industry too.
Thank you to @sherrychris for finding this article on Steve Jobs. What I like about this article is that it delves—slightly–into Jobs’ mindset via an interview with his “last” boss. It’s a fascinating romp. Here’s one meaningful take-away:
“What makes Steve’s methodology different from everyone else’s is that he always believed the most important decisions you make are not the things you do, but the things you decide not to do.”
Very simple concept, yet powerful. Reading through the interview we learn that Steve regularly met with Akio Morita, co-founder of SONY, and was given a prototype of the first SONY Walkman. And the first thing he did was take it apart to look at its component parts. I can image Jobs making a list of “not likes” with the Walkman over a decade or more, which yielded the iPod. The same can plausibly be said for a mobile phone too. I can imagine Jobs using NOKIA and Motorola products and making a list of “not likes”, which yielded the iPhone. Focus on making a “not like” list to improve your product offering or client service delivery. Who knows, maybe you’ll revolutionize an industry too.
Photo credit: timtak

Collaborative innovation, good ideas, and competitive differentiation

According to this Harvard Business Review podcast on collaborative innovation, the Internet dramatically drops collaboration and transaction costs thus enabling corporations to orchestrate capabilities more efficiently. Collaborative innovation can yield dramatic results in meaningful new product designs, service delivery models, and customer satisfaction; potentially yielding an endless supply of “good ideas”.

But where do good ideas come from? This video gives a succinct explanation of the basic genesis of good ideas:

Assuming good ideas require a certain period of gestation to manifest, collabortive innovation principles can collapse the time required to let great ideas blossom. MRIS recently took a bold step in collaborative innovation by incenting university students to use MRIS’ data resources to create novel, customer-driven products (in 2009 I suggested that MLS’ follow a similar model). The real estate industry is a perfect industry to employ collaborative innovation principles; it will be interesting to see what the crowd develops for MRIS.

Photo credit: jacreative

Related posts: Innovation and competitive differentiation using idea management systems and Sustainable innnovation and excellence in product development

Influence on Twitter

Influence on Twitter is not necessarily tied to the number of followers one has, at least this is one of the conclusions in this report on Twitter influence which came to my notice by a @papadimitriou recent tweet. The core finding: it’s more influential to have an engaged audience that actively retweets and mentions the user, and one keeps this audience engaged by frequently interacting with this audience (see common sense paragraph below).

The dataset used in the report consisted of nearly 2 billion follow links among over 54 million users who produced over 1.7 billion tweets. Here’s a link to a website the report authors set up that further describes the dataset. The report compares three measures of influence: indegree (i.e., number of followers one has), retweets, and mentions. The most followed users were news sites, sports stars, and politicians. The most retweeted were content aggregation sites like @Mashable and @TwitterTips, @GuyKawasaki, and @TheOnion. The most mentioned individuals were mostly celebrities.

The report found that retweets are primarily content driven (including both the username and link to a source), whereas mentions are mostly identity driven. In looking at retweets and mentions, individuals who were both retweeted and mentioned the most showed the highest engagement metrics (i.e., conversing with their audience), as well as posting creative and interesting tweets.

Finally, the report focused on how much influence “ordinary users” can exert within the Twittersphere. In this case, the authors looked at how completely unknown users exerted tremendous influence (as measured by retweets and/or mentions) during serious news events. By limiting their tweets to a single news topic, users like @oxfordgirl quickly gained influence.

This report, I suppose, just reinforces common sense at some level. But it’s nice to see someone crunching the numbers to reinforce one’s intuition.

Photo: soundfromwayout

Small agile groups drive innovation

According to this MIT Technology Review article, agile groups with fluid ideation and development team dynamics routinely create more innovative products. Yet commercialization of an innovative product is another matter. Successful monetization of a product requires a disciplined approach towards continuous systems and process improvements. But herein resides a trap: once an innovative product becomes systemized, further innovation on that product can become frozen as profitability goals dictate less variance in the process. Companies like W.L. Gore & Associates seemed to have solved this dilemma.

New media innovation issues and risks

This research paper, Power, media culture and new media, delves into social justice issues surrounding the democratizing effects of new media. The paper points out that new media benefits (e.g., easier access to information through widespread platforms like mobile devices) are not equally shared or distributed across class, race, or national origin. The paper also implicitly points out that the use of mash-ups along with the increasing diversity of media outlets could create a “ripe” environment for effective government-sanctioned propaganda campaigns.

Similarly, the new media environment where essentially everyone can be a “content producer” offers unprecedented opportunities for government surveillance and ultimate suppression and/or obfuscation of speech by using new media outlets as viral engines to discredit speech that’s counter to government views or objectives. The author does point out some positive reverberations from new media harmonics; and this is the alignment of human rights initiatives with new media (as embodied in such organizations like Mothers Fighting for Others). Nevertheless, the paper ends with a caution that discriminatory (and by implication, repressive) actions can re-emerge in new media, despite the overarching democratizing effects of the medium.

Does this paper relate to real estate? Not directly. It’s simply a great education piece on the broader implications of our new media economy and society.

Using play-scripting as a means to develop effective corporate strategies

Writing a “playscript” is an incredibly powerful way to conduct a competitive business review, according to this Harvard Business Review article (subscription required). The article advocates writing a “playscript” using characters and character analysis to define your company and competitive landscape for use as a foundational element in corporate strategy development.

The article argues that “traditional” strategy tools like five forces maps and blue ocean thinking are outdated because they assume a static competitive environment as opposed to a rapidly evolving one. The article argues that by drafting a “playscript”, companies are in a much better position to map the landscape and anticipate emergent competitive forces.

In developing a playscript, the article suggests focusing on the following:

1) Draft a current playsript: Broadly describe the setting in which you operate by identifying the other characters, their motivations, what role your company plays, how this role is perceived by others; it’s important to view your role as critically as you can through the eyes of others (i.e., perception is reality); map the links among all the actors and the rules that govern them; give voice to the value your organization adds.

2) Rewrite your playscript: the goal here is to rewrite your playscript and, if possible, reinvent the playscript for an entire sector by answering such questions like “Can my organization attract new alliances to my sector where I can then leverage these alliances to add to an existing link or create a new link in a customer-centered value chain?”; determine where there’s a value need and fill this need (the article cites Intrawest as an example of a company that filled a value need by creating alliances with partners that deliver an exceptional destination living experience which has allowed Intrawest to emerge as a dominant player in managing experiential destination resorts, whereas before its focus was on developing these types of properties).

3) Future-proof your playscript: consider how changes in your customer needs will affect your company by finding the correlation between who your customers are, what they want, and how they get the things they want (the article cites IKEA as a company that’s done this well by foreseeing high volatility in the prices governing the wood it uses to make its products so it purchased forests in Poland and the Baltic states to help stabilize prices, thus allowing it to confidently focus on dominating the low cost segment of the “lifestyle furnishings” market).

Since 2005, we’ve seen many playscripts written and re-written in the real estate industry with the advent of Trulia, Zillow, Redfin, etc. Since 2007, we’ve seen new marketing and customer acquisition playscripts written and re-written via the explosion of social media and social networking. And currently we’re seeing playscripts written and re-written with the emergence of mobile applications and augmented reality. What’s your playscript that will allow you to position your firm as a dominate player in your market? How do you plan to adapt to the changing needs of your clients and customers, especially in terms of mobile solutions? Who are the dominate characters in your company, your competitors, and the industry at large? Who’d you cast as Othello, Brutas, Caesar, Puck, Mr. White, Mr. Pink, Mr. Blonde?

Photo: tanakawho

Innovation and cross-functional team differentiation for competitive advantage

What factors influence effective cross-functional team environments that spur the greatest innovations and competitive advantage? The authors of this study (.pdf) (focusing on manufacturing) determined that baldly implementing a cross-functional team approach is not a universal good. Notably, the authors found that cross-functional teamwork involving marketing may have a negative effect (the authors noted too, however, that this finding contradicts earlier studies). The authors conclude that companies should focus cross-functional teams on product design, development, and engineering so as to yield the highest gains in terms of innovation. I’ll posit that this finding can be applied to firms outside the manufacturing industry that are focused on software development and related product development activities.

Interestingly, this study (.pdf) concludes that many marketing departments exert positive influence on a firm’s overall market innovation in the following areas: advertising, relationship management, segmentation, targeting, and positioning. Marketing departments can influence product innovations through their overarching customer knowledge and insight into trends. Thus, a way to effectively involve marketing in cross-functional teams focused on software-related product development activities is to have the marketing team drive a voice of the customer ethos throughout the ideation and development process.

Community crowdsourcing and innovation

The Wall Street Journal recently profiled calculator hobbyists who hack calculators to do weird (but ostensibly fun) things like making an Etch A Sketch, or a Tetris game, or synthesized music. The WSJ article also relates how a calculator company that was the target of some of these hacks sent cease and desist emails and letters to members of the calculator hack community for violations of intellectual property rights.

First, it’s understandable why the calculator company sought to protect its intellectual property. But there’s also an opportunity for the calculator company to foster a user community from this hack community, and the LEGO MINDSTORMS community offers an intriguing parable.

Product directors at LEGO MINDSTORMS first reacted negatively to a budding hobbyist community centered around their product, according to this MIT lecture, but have now embraced this community to drive product sales and innovation. Similarly, IBM has a developer community. And this research paper details how individuals update Google’s mapping system to make it more accurate, while this New York Times article discusses how a community of volunteer cartographers are logging details of neighorhoods.

Sustainable innovation and excellence in product development

In this MIT Sloan School of Management lecture on sustaining innovation, the CEO of W.L. Gore & Associates, Terri Kelly, has some great insights on how creative knowledge environments drive profitability.

W.L. Gore is a diverse and innovative company, creating products ranging from GORETEX to surgical devices. Kelly stresses to give your team the right tools, promote the right culture, maintain minimal bureaucracy, have high expectations for networking within the organization to connect and share knowledge, and recognize that leaders are “leaders” only if people actually want to follow them.

Define what you believe, define your guiding principles, define your core values, and define key disciplines. Use these four elements as the framework around which culture is nurtured, all the while recognizing that these elements must work as a system; any one element does not ensure success…it’s the interrelatedness of the components that promotes success. Culture is an active investment in terms of time, energy, and dollars, not a cost.

For W.L. Gore, this investment in culture results in amazing products like OPTIFADE hunting gear (play this game to see how it works). Obviously, W.L. Gore is doing something right. This Kelly lecture is well-worth 54 minutes of your time to gain some amazing insights.

Related post: Creating a culture of creativity and innovation

Creating a culture of creativity and innovation

Moving beyond social media

The label “social media” has lost its resonance in so far as the concept of “social media” has been reduced to a series of marketing tactics. As David Armano says in a Harvard Business Review blog article:

Let’s start with the challenges — the term “social media” itself is indicative of the state of affairs. “Media” limits our view of the movement, and brings with it the baggage of decades of advertising. Marketers are only too happy to view the social web as a new array of channels to market their goods in some shape or fashion. That’s because it’s a model they’ve used since the beginning.

Armano goes on to essentially say that “social media” represents a fundamental cultural shift. It’s a shift that started many years ago. In 2006, Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing uttered 10 words that embody this shift

Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.

This sentiment was re-articulated recently by Jay Thompson’s humorous, yet prescient, “Og the Caveman” parable

Back in the day, Og the Caveman would sit around the fire and talk about his day to anyone who would listen. The cave-ladies would roll their eyes while Og recounted his manly adventures, and cave-dudes would all be one upping each other with tales of who speared the bigger Mammoth…They had friends, and followers. There were popular cave-people, and there were annoying cave-people. And everything in between. Just like we have today. Only today we have whiz-bang technology tools to take our socializing and networking planet wide.

Indeed, it’s the technical infrastructure that’s a catalyst to this conversation enflamed cultural shift, most recently embodied by the battle for real-time search dominance. For example, a friend of mine recently commented on the uselessness (to him) of CNN in terms of real-time news and authority where, in the midst of the Mumbai attacks last year, the CNN anchor kept referring to Twitter as the source. Given this, my friend’s legitimate question was (still is) “So why am I wasting my time with you?” As a brand, CNN took a negative body blow.

Brands are not incognizant to this sentiment, this cultural meme, or gestalt-like shift to mine the real-time conversation core, and have launched full-bore social media marketing efforts to be part of the vein. But have these efforts been designed? Again, Armano, is on the money with this post on “filtering” the network economy and this presentation, Social Business By Design,

I especially like slide 23 where he points out an article discussing the concept of having a “Chief Social Media Officer”, which reminds me of turn-of-the-century job descriptions like Chief Electricty Officer and how irrelevant those titles were when electricity became as ubiquitous as air. So at a high-level what’s brand to do, be it a brokerage or agent brand?

As Armano demonstrates brand impressions–positive or negative–occur through many touch points, and as a brand you only have so much control. What you can control is 1) how you listen (through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blog, etc), 2) how you respond via these same channels, 3) what brand “persona” you want to convey via these listening and responding posts, 4) who you put in place to manage this process (are you serious and demonstrate that by hiring the right person for your brand versus having interns manage this process; the former indicates you’re in for the long haul whereas the latter indicates you still consider this cultural change child’s play), 5) architect your tactics by following a “designed” strategy. Here are four places to begin your strategy:

David Armano’s mind meme on design and his post on experiential design
Adam Singer on niche versus mass media
Understanding and measuring user engagement by Eric T. Petersen

Related posts: Choreographing Client Experiences on Your Website, Theatre of Cruelty in a Carnival of Real Estate, Twittering Away Your Digital Legacy

Photo credit: vkurland

Innovation in a competitive marketplace

Target, 1958, oil and collage on canvas by Jasper Johns
Target, 1958, oil and collage on canvas by Jasper Johns

Perfectly Competitive Innovation is a fascinating article on what drives innovation. The authors argue against the notion that patents and copyrights promote innovation. Rather, its a rich competitive environment that drives innovation.

In other words, regardless of copyright law, movies will continue to be produced as long as first run theatrical profits are sufficient to cover production costs; music will continue to be produced as long as profits from live performances are sufficient to cover production costs, books will continue to be produced as long as initial hardcover sales are sufficient to cover production costs, and financial and medical innovations will take place as long as the additional rents accruing to the first comer compensate for the R&D costs.

This sentiment was echoed by MIT Professor Eric von Hippel in a lecture where he discussed innovation occurring in kite surfing where practitioners put their innovations under a creative commons licensing scheme to thwart an attempt by manufacturers to exploit their innovations under traditional intellectual property rights law. Perfectly Competitive Innovation similarly points to many case studies and scenarios demonstrating that innovation does not necessarily need the traditional intellectual property rights rubric to thrive and survive.

Photo credit: cliff1066

Innovation driven by extreme user communities

According to MIT Professor Eric von Hippel’s lecture, Democratizing Innovation, manufacturers traditionally look to the center of the market to drive innovation; that is, with their penetrative questions to and analysis of this market, manufacturers think they can discern what to do in terms of innovative product development initiatives that meet consumers’ needs. What Professor von Hippel actually found is that innovation does not come from the center of the market, it comes from an extreme market fringe driven by localized users and early adopter user communities pushing the limits of an original device or prototype. As an example of this, about 22 minutes into the video, von Hippel discusses how these types of communities quickly drove up sales of Lego’s Mindstorm product, while morphing Lego’s original concepts of the product. And about 28 minutes into the video, von Hippel goes into how user groups drove innovative design in the kite surfing market while putting their design innovations under a creative commons licensing scheme which hobbled manufacturers’ attempts to exploit these innovations. This video runs a little over one hour.

Innovation and design thinking

Empathy, collaboration, human centered feature/functionality, storytelling, and culture are themes that drive innovation through design thinking. Core phases of design thinking: inspiration, ideation, implementation.

On inspiration of ideas: use the world as a source for new ideas; focus on research that is ethnographic, anthropological, and qualitative versus just quantitative; focus on extreme users and strive to understand their world from cognitive and emotional levels.

On ideation: build things to learn about your ideas; rapid and low cost prototyping and iteration is key; prototyping allows you, as the designer/innovator, to get a sense of what you’ve learned and refine your ideas over time with stakeholder feedback driving the process.

On implementation: use storytelling and construct a story around the ideas you have, the more likely that your idea will make it out of R&D; a story frames the idea.

Culture ties together inspiration, ideation, implementation. Culture is its own inspiration.

This is a  fascinating lecture on innovation (57 min, well worth your time).

Innovation and the future of corporate R&D

This New York Times article on how corporations can foster innovation within their R&D departments by adopting decentralized (i.e., “federated”) approaches to funding and team structure, spurred me to conduct some research regarding this topic; here are two great finds:

TED conference speech by Charles Leadbeater on outside-in innovation and how this type of “innovation-in-use” phenomenon has profound impacts on business:

Research article discussing how universities can support and spur regional innovation; fascinating read on Georgia Tech’s success in this regard.

Related posts: Creating a culture of creativity and innovation, Innovation considerations for real estate firms

Niche marketing and passionate brand ambassadors

Deux Gros Nez, an eclectic, wonderful restaurant in Reno, Nevada, closed its doors a couple of years ago. It’s where I, as a dedicated employee of Tim Healion and Jon Jesse (then owners of Deux Gros Nez), learned about community, service, and the power of passionate brand ambassadors:

Flickr tribute

YouTube interview

A person’s thoughts on its closing

Deux Gros Nez opened its doors June 18, 1985 and began serving espresso, scones, focaccia, and frappes in a gambling town. It was open 24 hours a day, but where 99 cent breakfasts and watered down coffee were king, the Duex Gros Nez cuisine appealed not to the masses. Nevertheless, Deux Gros Nez cultivated a tribal following. This was my first lesson in niche marketing: don’t worry about the masses, worry about perfecting your niche brand and appealing to a niche audience.

This niche audience from the very beginning included lawyers, punks, doctors, architects, professional athletes, artists, etc. Each person had their own reason for frequenting Deux Gros Nez but the common unifying thread was the passion of the owners for delivering “honest” food and a dining experience that was outside the norm of a gambling town (frequent patrons were often met with a friendly greeting along with their type of coffee–brewed, espresso, cappuccino–waiting for them before they walked in because the owners knew what time they’d arrive and remembered what they liked). This was my second lesson in niche marketing: be passionate about what you do, focus on honesty, be passionate and concerned about your customers’ needs.

Part of my job was to train new hires to aspire to a high degree of customer service. The challenge was to inspire part-time employees–many of which were college students, snowboarders, and the like–to engage each customer on a one-to-one level. This was a tall order considering that only two or three employees on any one five-hour shift would have to take the orders, prepare the food, serve the food, bus the tables, ring-up orders, keep inventory, re-stock, and wear a bolo tie (purchased or homemade, the best homemade one being a hollowed-out egg run-through with a string). Sometimes we failed in our quest for customer service excellence. But many times we succeeded. And this success was embodied in creating “wow” events for Deux Gros Nez guests. For example, I would inspire our team to recognize the sound of a dropped utensil when it hit the floor. If you listen carefully, each utensil has a different tonality. This was useful when, on a crowded Friday night, a guest would invariably drop a spoon and the team member working the floor would replace the spoon before the customer asked. This created a great customer service “wow” event, marked the Deux Gros Nez brand in the mind of the guest, and created an incentive to come back. This was my third lesson in niche marketing, especially as it relates to a service industry: training and a appreciation for ensuring that your customers have the best experience goes a long way towards inspiring those customers to be your brand ambassadors.

This is not to say that Deux Gros Nez (which means “two big noses”) did not have a reputation with some people as being somewhat snobby, and that every person who dined there became a brand ambassador, but the restaurant cultivated passionate brand ambassadors worldwide, as evidenced by the fact that people flew-in from all over the world to be at the farewell party (see the Flickr tribute above). The Deux Gros Nez community continues on Facebook via The Fort group page. This was/is my fourth lesson in niche marketing: passion combined with a willingness to pursue excellence and honestly engage your customers inspires your customers to keep your brand flame alive, even when you’re gone.

Tim Healion (known as “The Chief” to all who frequented Duex Gros Nez), currently, has transferred his passion, honesty, and pursuit of excellence to one of this nation’s top professional cycling events, the Tour de Nez. Chief, thank you and keep it going.

Interviews with innovative change artists

Data Visualization (32 minutes): Eric Rodenbeck, founder of Stamen, discusses how data visualization allows one to tease-out non-obvious yet meaningful observations from arcane data sets. The interview also includes a short discussion on how data visualization can enhance real estate search (around 16 minutes into the interview). Jon Udell’s series is awesome, which is where I found the Rodenbeck interview.

Clay Shirky on how social web platforms have the power to change history (~17 minutes): Shirky gave this speech in May 2009 and details how platforms like Twitter can enable social change, potentially even revolutionary change. Especially excellent points made regarding mass media asymmetry.

Kevin Rose, founder of Digg, interviews Trent Reznor (~45 minutes): Reznor gives some really great insights into the music industry and its nexus with “the Internet” while detailing his creative power struggles with record labels.