Tag Archives: startups

Six Simple Growth Hacks for Startups

Six Simple Growth Hacks for Startups

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

Building a new business is tough. These strategies will help your startup succeed without a big investment.

As many of my readers know, I usually write about strategy, innovation, and leadership. But recently I’ve been asked a lot about how I helped establish Praxie.com as a destination website for hundreds of best practice digital tools and templates using growth hacking strategies. That’s because it’s incredibly hard to cut through the noise and establish a new brand, website presence, and business model in today’s increasingly cluttered competitive world.

So, here’s what we did to build a brand and drive tens of thousands of visitors to our website each month, all without any significant marketing investment. Anyone who’s focused, methodical, and willing take the time can do it.

1. Create Expert Content

Content is king. You can create it yourself or provide a platform that encourages users to contribute content as part of your business model. Content drives the brand and engages customers. Plus, Google and other search engines index and prioritize pages with solid content, so your specific webpages with noteworthy content will get a boost in SEO rankings and see increased traffic over time. Content comes in many forms: articles, blog posts, listicles, white papers, templates, and videos.

2. Syndicate Content to Grow Backlinks

Backlinks are the lifeblood of SEO. The more that reputable websites link back to your website (or sub-pages on your site), the higher you’ll rank will be in search engines. And the higher your rank, the more organic visitors you’ll receive. Whatever you’re doing or providing as part of your business, position yourself as the expert. Become a source of knowledge and insight for the press, get interviewed on podcasts, write articles for other sites, or do anything else that gets your name (and backlink) out there on the net. This strategy also builds your brand.

3. Become a Video Star

Content isn’t just about the written word. YouTube is now the number-two search engine in the world, right behind Google. Video content highlights your expertise. It gets shared. And it drives traffic to your website that can convert to newsletter signups, subscriptions, and product purchases. Be sure to include keywords in the titles and descriptions of your videos. Also include a plug at the end of the video for where the viewer can learn more (e.g., your website). Re-purpose your videos on social media and embed videos into your website to further reinforce your content expertise.

4. Build Email Relationships

While just about every email inbox is cluttered with spam these days, when someone gives you their email address, they’re essentially giving you permission (opting in) to connect with them. While the same principle applies to social media, email is still a unique, higher-touch, form of connection-making. As compared with social media, email is like pinning a flyer up on someone’s front door versus hoping they see one that has been posted on the corner telephone pole as they walk by. So, create easy ways for people to sign up for newsletters. Connect with others on LinkedIn, where most profiles include email addresses. Focus on building a list and providing high-value communications that use expert content to connect with your audience versus just trying to sell them your product. Many free or inexpensive tools can get you started like Mailchimp and Constant Contact.

5. Measure Everything Using Dashboards

The only way to gauge progress is to measure it. Use Google Analytics to track your most important metrics, like the number of visitors, landing pages, conversion rates for your newsletter and purchases, and more. Use free tools like those provided by Moz and Similarweb to benchmark yourself against the competition. Connect social media metrics and advertising into a dashboard that provides a holistic picture of the business. But don’t spend too much time cobbling together data. Keep it simple so you can get a quick read on how you’re doing while spending most of your time doing the things that grow your business.

6. Test, Retest, and Test Again

Google recently introduced a great tool called Optimize. Optimize allows you to quickly run tests on your website or individual web pages. By creating A/B tests that serve up different page headings, product prices, button colors, etc., you can gain insight into what works and what doesn’t based on what you’re trying to achieve. Track which market positioning statements result in the most newsletter signups or which price model delivers the greatest revenue. Running tests should be an ongoing activity which essentially means you’re taking the winning formula from your A/B test and then running another A/B test using that as the baseline. Connect your tests to your data analytics to track what works (and doesn’t) over time.

Most small startups don’t have big funding. That’s why growth hacks are so important. Use a little elbow grease, coupled with savvy customer engagement strategies, to build the basis for market traction. You might need to give it a little time to yield results, but that’s also what’s needed to create an enduring business.

Image Credit: Getty Images (acquired by Soren Kaplan)

This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.

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Scale Your Business in Four Simple Steps

Scale Your Business in Four Simple Steps

GUEST POST from Helen Yu

As a new founder at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey, you have many tasks at hand and little bandwidth to do them all. There are countless responsibilities, from everyday tasks like investor pitch decks and elevator pitches to longer-term tasks like business plan revisions, product launch strategy and much more. How do you know if you are putting your time and energy into things that matter? It all comes back to why you started your business in the first place — understanding your “why” will keep you going when the road gets tough. But “why” alone is not enough for the long haul. You must couple your “why” with four specific steps needed to scale a business:

  1. Intentional go-to-market preparations
  2. An ability to adapt to customer needs
  3. A willingness to acclimate or even restart in the face of changing or more demanding market environments
  4. The heart to celebrate with your team when you collectively hit milestones along the way

I learned this approach while ascending one of the world’s most famous mountains.

Here is how I learned how to scale a business to success:

In 2007, I climbed to Mount Everest base camp. It took hundreds of hours of training and dedication to achieve my goal — including staying committed to the climb while my hands were freezing from the cold and my head felt heavy from the rising altitude.

Why did I keep climbing?

Because I had made a promise to my grandmother to spread her ashes on a tall mountain. That “why” gave me the will to keep moving forward. It gave me the courage to see my limitations and overcome them: to learn mountain climbing and train my body to withstand it, to find a Sherpa guide who could lead me into new territory. My goal of climbing Mount Everest started not on any map but in my mind. It was a dream that became my North Star, helping me choose the actions and paths needed to fulfill my grandmother’s wish.

Your startup has a similar North Star: the reason that led you to start the business in the first place. You also have an inner voice that serves as Sherpa guide. Why did you start this business? Who are you serving with it?

By asking yourself these questions, you will find the determination and grit to keep moving forward and find the keys to scale a business. A North Star may look distant and unattainable, but it is achievable when you take consistent actions to reach it.

1. Prepare

You may already have an answer to your “why” in a formal mission statement or vision statement, but are your company’s actions in alignment?

When strategy and execution aren’t aligned to the mission and vision, disconnects occur. Internal communications break down. Customers are dissatisfied with their interactions with your company. Growth opportunities are missed. Investors become wary of your potential to survive.

With your “why” kept front and center, you will be able to choose the actions that support it and overcome these common disconnects. It all begins with preparation. Before you begin your startup climb, be sure that you’ve lined up your partners and support team. Don’t go to market until you have processes in place to hear and respond to your customers.

Your startup’s “why” must not simply be mentioned in a high-level vision statement but must also be integrated into all of your company’s operations, from product creation to marketing.

Do your employees understand your company’s mission and vision? When your team understands their impact, they can find more fulfillment in their jobs, which leads to alignment across the company and higher performance.

2. Adapt

Your North Star, or “why,” will not change, but the vision and strategy for reaching it might. You may find the business you started is not the one that will move you forward toward that North Star. At that point, you must either implement changes within your business to move you closer to those goals or create something new entirely.

Often wedded to their original ideas, many founders resist adapting even when it becomes evident they’ve misread the voice of the customer. Stay aware and agile. This is the time to pivot, perhaps even redirect, to incorporate the customer’s voice into decision-making.

Be ready to test your assumptions of what is working and what is not. Your “why” may take you on new roads that you never thought possible, and your ability to adapt to your customers along the way can keep you moving forward.

3. Acclimate

Adapting is all about shifting direction. Acclimating means pausing, or even restarting, listening to the customer’s voice and adjusting to demanding markets that have little margin for error.

Like climbers who reverse and go back to base camp after reaching each summit, the reflective, backward steps of acclimatization will allow your business to figure out repeatable success (the cornerstone needed to scale a business!) and keep you moving forward in the long run.

4. Celebrate

Finally, don’t save all the confetti and high-fives for the very top of the mountain. Remember to celebrate small wins, too. As a founder, you need to inspire devotion in others. Celebrating the little victories along the way is an expression of gratitude to your partners and teams and reminds people why they started the journey with you.

Startup culture is complicated, with many opportunities to get off track and lose the point of why you started in the first place. By keeping the “why” of your North Star front and center while preparing, adapting, acclimating and celebrating along your journey, you will make the necessary adjustments to avoid many of the pitfalls that cause startups to fail and, instead, start to scale a business with confidence.

Originally published on Startup Nation.

Image credits: Pixabay

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Scaling-up, the next frontier for innovation organization

Guest Post from Nicolas Bry

How to transform innovative bottom-up initiatives into a movement spread across the company? How to scale your innovation program widely? Here are a few lessons learned from creating innovation programs in Europe, and tweaking them to Africa and Middle-East contexts.

Leveraging local and global innovation

Supplementing wisely central techno-pushed innovation with local innovation, closer to the fields and to the user needs, opening new windows of opportunities, is the goal of the open and local innovation approach developed for Orange Africa.

The purpose is to balance the technical expertise from a central innovation division, with the possibility of bottom-up initiatives, experimenting locally up to 100 innovative solutions every semester with the circa 20 countries where Orange operates in Africa and Middles-East.

The local innovation focus is on agility, pragmatism, and value created for the users and for Orange business, while leveraging a key technological asset that Orange can bring to the innovative service.

Smartphone Noir

One emblematic story is the birth of Orange Money, a mobile money service solving the problem of money transfer and payment for unbanked people. The idea was born in Kenya, and it clearly could not have emerged in Europe where everyone is banked, even kids! Orange developed centrally a platform capable of supporting all African countries in their progressive roll-out over 18 countries: ten years later, 50 millions users signed in for Orange Money. Furthermore, the central Orange Money platform enables local developments blossom, tailored to each country needs, and being picked-up, and replicated from one country to another over the region.

This is probably the most brilliant innovation of Orange over the decade, still no cutting-edge tech embedded: it’s low tech (SMS). As it solves a real user problem, it transforms people’s life, and got a massive adoption rate.

Orange Money map

Conducting short experiments in connection with business units

I created Orange intrapreneurship program 5 years ago, with a view to help innovative ideas transition more fluently into business, with the help of a sponsoring business unit, and to open the innovation doors to every Orange employee, letting them benefit from a tunnel of goodwill around their idea. The program acted like an innovation center of expertise or incubator. It clearly involved the business units very upstream: I’m a strong believer in co-developing innovations that create opportunities for business units, giving them a competitive advantage or solving one of their problems. “Find out the business unit problem that your innovation is solving”, I kept saying to the innovators I mentored!

Now we are adapting the process for the 20 countries of Orange Africa taking into account contextual particularities. We keep the employees participation and the business unit ownership aspects, but we also try to test refinements on the exploration stage. The key here is to conduct innovation exploration with short experiments in connection with business units:

  • achieving quick business wins with innovative process improvement, impacting internal organization, and not only new product and services: for instance, streamlining the authentification process for new customers;
  • mixing employees and business representatives with startups that help experimenting quickly; this has been pioneered by Orange Belgium, and these teams are called innovation squads like in the Spotify vocabulary;
  • keeping the process nimble, in a stretched time frame of a few weeks, so as to conduct a high number of experiments, confronting mock-ups to users, and collecting a maximum of users’ feedback, finding The Right IT before any product development.

Our target is to build proximity with our target users, rather than falling in love with our product, to explore and conduct short experiments, and pave the way to exploitation capitalizing on users’ feedback.

Personne Pointant Sur Un Appareil Photo Noir Et Gris Près De Macbook Pro

Designing innovation program, boosting innovation community

I’ve been through 10 steps to design an corporate entrepreneur program in my book The Intrapreneurs’ Factory. These 10 milestones are also an appropriate framework to design the innovation process with the countries of Orange Africa.

10 steps

It’s important first of all to define the reason why you start the program, what problem you’re trying to solve, what goals and KPIs will make the management team satisfied if they are reached. Then, some delicate gates are:

  1. Finding out the right sponsor, both visible and accessible; sometimes a deputy sponsor can compensate a lack of avaibility!
  2. Involving the business side soon enough in the process to trigger ownership, and  further facilitate the exit, aka the transition from exploration to exploitation;
  3. Closely coaching the process along the way, sharing the innovation tools from design thinking and lean start-up, bespoke tools to design mock-ups, and conduct experiment, but also the very peculiar mindset of the successful innovator: flexible and stubborn at the same time as says Jeff Bezos, as the key relies in the management of iteration in short cycles.

To operate this innovation process, we move together with a community of 20 staggering innovation champions, representing the countries of Orange Africa. Not only we discuss the innovation process to test locally, but we share view on innovation organization, and share success stories during a weekly Radio Innovation.

Radio Innovation

Weekly Radio Innovation also puts forward tremendous testimonials to inspire the innovation community:

  • from innovation managers and communities connected to Africa:  Seedstars startups competition and programs for African entrepreneurs; Make Sense Africa incubator and the Dakar Citylab; Norrsken Kigali innovation hub, the startups gateway to East Africa; YUX Design Agency from Senegal, validating innovation ideas with users; innovation in the informal sector in Africa with GoodPoint/Archipel-co.com; Total Africa open innovation in Chad; Entrepreneurship Communities for innovation in Africa, with Archipel&Co and Africa Farmers Club; Liferay digital platform, and an Africa’s approach to tech and innovation; Innovation in Africa with Vodafone;
  • from startups growing their business in Africa: cloud telephony for SMEs, with Mteja from Kenya, and AfricaTalks; South-African MFS Africa: moving money across countries with one API that makes Africa look like one country; Kenya Pezesha loan marketplace for small African businesses; Chari.ma from Morocco, market place for local businesses; African startups investment report by Briter Bridges;
  • from Orange collaborators illustrating the group assets: Orange Ventures Africa seeds challenge; Social listening with Orange Data Studio in Guinea; Orange Fab Belgium innovation squads; Orange Senegal design thinking toolbox; Orange Slovakia  open innovation; Orange Amman innovation team; First 100% digital mobile offer Flex by Orange Polska; Orange Romania innovation ecosystem, and cooperation with startups;
  • from broader innovation experts: innovation community management at Gefco; Booster incubation studio at Total; innovation in the energy industry, Innovation Vesta Wind Systems; collaborating with startups through the Venture Client Model, by 27pilots.

For these innovation champions in charge of setting-up an organization for innovation in their country, the challenge is to seek for integration (integrating seamlessly innovation with the business) before seeking for success. These mind-boggling testimonials feed them, upgrade their skills, and consolidate their innovation culture.

Scaling-up innovation oragnization

Once the innovation program gets traction, the next step is about scaling-up the approach, engaging progressively all participants. If all Orange countries commit to the innovation process in Africa, that will lead to the tremendous portfolio of 100 creative solutions experimented per semester, 200 on a yearly basis on the regional footprint: what a eye-catching achievement!

At the innovation project level, one can use the scale-up canvas to check whether the project is ready to grow, and move from a start-up to a scale-up stage.

At the program level, Is your innovation organization resilient? is the topic of a short assessment I have designed to know how your innovation organization fare across 10 key areas, and cements its resilience. Whether you are leading open innovation, internal innovation, participative innovation and intrapreneurship, digital factory or disruptive labs, you will learn from this tool which works like an innovation calculator, it’s actually quite fun to run it! To start, click here, see how you rank, and get pieces of advice for improvement.

Image credits: Pexels.com 1, Pexels.com 2

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Whither Innovation in Indiana?

Whither Innovation in Indiana?Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s talk about homosexuality and whether it has any impact on innovation. There probably are two no more polarizing topics in the United States than homosexuality and abortion. But the truth is that if both sides of the political and religious spectrum focused on the golden rule, there would be less corruption, we’d all be a lot happier, probably have more innovation, and our politics would be more productive.

Today we have another great case study for how short people’s attention spans have gotten, how the government can help or hinder innovation, how little investigative journalism still remains in the United States, and how easily people are swayed by a soundbite that runs contrary to (or in support of) their own personal religious or political beliefs.

But this article isn’t going to be some diatribe in support or opposition to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) legislation (referred to by the media as an anti-gay law) because I freely admit I don’t fully understand all of the implications of a similar federal law and whether federal protections for gays apply to the state law.

Instead I’d like to focus briefly on what this controversy brings to mind for me in regards to the efforts of hard-working folks attempting to stimulate innovation in Indiana (and elsewhere).

Point #1: People Must Feel Safe to Innovate

If we take Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs as gospel (okay, maybe that’s dangerous word choice), then safety is one of the most important needs for people, and in order to innovate people must feel safe. True innovation usually requires taking risks and doing things in a new way, and if people feel that trying something new or even just being different has a high price, then people won’t step out of their comfort zone and push the boundaries of conventional wisdom. So if we are truly trying to do everything we can to inspire innovation in our region, shouldn’t we also try to do everything we can to make it feel like a place where it is safe to be different and where that difference is potentially even celebrated?

Point #2: Diversity is Important (to a point)

We all look at the same situation through different eyes and a different history of experiences, values and beliefs. This diversity can help create different idea fragments that can be connected together to create revolutionary new ideas with the potential to become innovations. But at the same time, having some shared experiences helps to make it easier to communicate and to have a higher level of trust (assuming those experiences were good ones). So if we are truly trying to do everything we can to inspire innovation in our region, shouldn’t we also do everything we can to make different groups of people look to our region as a good place to move to so we have a diverse talent pool?

Conclusion: If Culture Trumps Strategy, Environment Trumps Startups

The world is changing. It used to be that companies started and grew in the community where they were founded, hiring increasing numbers of people from the surrounding areas and attracting others from elsewhere. Now, an increasing number of companies (especially digital ones) are moving to more distributed models where they create satellite offices where the talent is rather than trying to attract all of the talent to a single location.

Economically this is meaning that it is becoming less important that the next Facebook starts in your town than it is for the next Facebook to want to have an office in your town. This means that for cities, counties, states and countries, the greater economic impact is likely to be made not from trying to encourage lots of startups, but instead from trying to create an environment that young, talented people choose to live in.

And when you create a place that is attractive for smart, creative people to move to, you know what, you’re likely to end up not just with more growing digital companies seeking a presence, but also a larger number of startups than if you started with the goal of specifically trying to encourage startups.

Does your region focus on creating startups as the primary goal or on making itself an attractive place for a young, diverse and talented population to live?

Does this uproar help Indiana establish its as an attractive place to be, or work against that perception?

I’ll let you decide!

P.S. If you’re curious, here are The Metro Areas With the Largest, and Smallest, Gay Populations (for what it’s worth, Indianapolis isn’t on either list)


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Think Like a Tech Company or Go Out of Business

Think Like a Tech Company or Go Out of Business

by Braden Kelley and Linda Bernardi

Even in 2014, there are business sectors who feel they are not ‘tech companies’. News flash: Whether you are a consumer products company, an insurance company, a hotel, or a pharmaceutical company, your business is a technology business. Why?

Technology is the link between any business and its customers. To say technology is not core to your business strategy, means you think customers are not the key to your business success. So, your business is a technology business whether you want it to be or not.

Today technology is how you market and sell your products, make your business more efficient, and most importantly, how you stay connected to your customers. Some companies mistake the importance of technology to mean that they need to open a twitter account and monitor social media, put in an ERP and CRM system, and revamp their web site. But the importance of technology in today’s business environment is more than that.

ERP and CRM are common tools, a requirement to remain competitive, and while social media and the internet are important to sales and marketing success, they are becoming yesterday’s news as customers develop deeper connections to their mobile devices. If you aren’t on their devices and interacting in a meaningful way with them there in real-time, you won’t stay connected to them in the long run.

Let’s look at the impact on a few different industries whose members tend not to see themselves as technology companies:

1. Fortune 100 consumer product goods (CPG) companies
2. Hotel Chains
3. Big Box Retailers

1. Fortune 100 CPG companies typically manufacture large quantities of consistent products and have visually pleasing (static) web pages for consumers. But they don’t use technology well enough to detect what the market wants before it knows it, often fail to personalize or customize products to customer needs, and usually lack the online networks that could help connect other customer product needs together into new potential product ideas that the company could co-create with their customers. Often connection means post mortem analytics on data collected in the past, or, analyzing previous customer interactions with static web pages. Creating authentic customer connections requires online and mobile technology these companies usually don’t possess. I don’t mean apps (which often are pretty much the same as a website), but new physical/online/mobile engagement models that inspire customers to stay connected to the company (and each other) in a dynamic, evolving community. Rethinking is needed here. The customer is not just a buyer but an influencer. If CPG companies want to sell that next bottle of $300 facial cream, they better consider delighting, and not just marketing to, their customer base.

2. AirBnB has proven to be a major disruptive force in the hotel and hospitality business, grabbing a massive foothold in a market that the Homeaway.com member companies created and should have dominated. Resistance to AirBnB is massive and lawsuits are abundant, but for a moment let’s go beyond the hype and explore the angst of traditional hotels. AirBnB created a highly connected, effective community of property owners and property renters. This bi-directional ecosystem can only thrive if they are both happy and satisfied. To experience what they’ve created, first go to a traditional hotel website (pictures of room, building, lobby) and then go to AirBnB and browse the hundreds of customer experiences their property owners offer. On the hotel site you’ll see they’ve created the mechanics of paying to rent a hotel room, while on AirBnB you’ll see that they’ve created both an ecosystem and an experience.

3. Big box retailers have done a poor job of seeing themselves as technology companies capable of fending off challenges from online-only retailers. Target made the mistake of seeing themselves as a retailer, not a technology business, and so they outsourced their ecommerce to Amazon in the beginning, only to regret doing so because Amazon was able to learn which 20% of their inventory drove 80% of their profits, and when.

Meanwhile, Costco and Walmart, despite being two of the most successful retailers in the world, have struggled to find success online because they can’t get beyond their brick and mortar heritage to see themselves as a technology business with an integrated online/offline ecosystem. Seriously, it is 2014, do we still need to get our Costco circulars in the mail? Nothing has changed about Costco’s interaction with its customers. Walmart exacerbated the disconnection between the two sides of their business by creating a separate online division and exiling it to Silicon Valley. Costco sells different products online than offline. The results of both of these approaches have been far from stellar.

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Technology Lowers Barriers to Entry

In the history of the world, it has never been easier to start and scale a business to a global footprint, not in a matter of decades or years, but in months. And it is not just the other companies in your industry and technology-driven startups that you have to worry about if you choose not to view yourself as a technology company and move as fast as they do. You have to worry about competition from established technology players like Google and Amazon too, because one day they (or people that used to work for them) might decide that your market is attractive enough to enter and come disrupt your industry. For example, Amazon has become a book publisher and a financial services company.

Technology Enables Experiences

Technology enables the creation of customer experiences. I am going to choose my insurance company based on my experience. At the end of the day if all prices are comparable, then how the businesses you interact with make you feel, and the connections you’ve built with them will matter more. Without an emphasis on using technology to make your business a social business, you will find your company displaced by others that do. You must lead your industry in identifying opportunities to use technology to get closer to your customers. The future of business will be all about delighting customers and making their experience more personal.

Technology is not just a tool, but central to everything you do in today’s always on, always connected digital age.

Here are ten ways that technology can help you become a more social business:

  1. Building Connections
  2. Developing Networks
  3. Global Sensing and Prediction
  4. Sharing Recommendations
  5. Creating Experiences
  6. Personalization
  7. Customization
  8. Co-Creation
  9. Crowdsourcing
  10. Open Innovation

To give you an example of what things will look like in the future, the forward thinking health insurance company will leverage the mobile device for virtual ID cards, drug interaction warnings, personal triage, mobile care, wellness, cost sharing calculations, FSA/HSA administration, diagnostics, and more.

Conclusion

In conclusion, no matter what business you are in, it is very dangerous not to see technology as a competitive differentiator and a core driver of your business. Instead, you must constantly look at how you can become more of a technology company in order to enable deeper customer connections and more meaningful experiences. Today if you don’t connect with, understand, delight and start predicting your customer’s needs/wants, you may not thrive in your industry and your competition and new entrants who do embrace technology will replace you.

This article is brought to you by Linda Bernardi and Braden Kelley. Collectively, we have over 30 years of experience working with large, global multi-disciplinary enterprises. We write this with care and passion as we want your enterprises to succeed. We would love to hear your thoughts.


Guest Collaborator:

Linda BernardiLinda Bernardi is a Technology Strategist, Investor, and Founder & CEO at StraTerra Partners, The Bernardi Leadership Institute and a Strategic Advisor at Cloudant Inc. She is also the Author of Provoke, Why the Global Culture of Disruption is the Only Hope for Innovation. Learn more here about Linda’s work on disrupting large enterprise analytics.

Please note the following licensing terms for Stikkee Situations cartoons:

1. BLOGS – Link back to https://bradenkelley.com/category/stikkees/ and you can embed them for free
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Where Must Marketing Innovation Come From?

Where Must Marketing Innovation Come From?The world of marketing and advertising used to be very simple. If you got a branding or marketing job with a company, you would inherit an agency that the person above you or before you had hired to work with the company to get your advertising and marketing campaigns developed and executed. After a few years if you worked in an agency you might go work for a company and manage an agency, or after a few years working in marketing or advertising for a company you might leave to go work for an agency, and this cycle might repeat several times over the course of your career.

In this simple environment, companies looked to their agencies to bring them innovations in marketing and/or advertising.

But this simple world of marketing and advertising is being disrupted and made more complex in the same way that many other industries are (think book publishing, book retailing, management consulting, etc.).

We live in an era where people have more places in which they can collect and share experiences, both on-line and off-line. Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram, hundreds of cable TV channels, hundreds of satellite radio channels, on-demand audio and video (both online and off), Pinterest, Instagram, meetups, unconferences, flash mobs, etc.

We live in an era where marketing and advertising work can be fulfilled not just via the company/agency partnership, but also via co-creation with customers, crowdsourcing, via crowdfunding, or utilizing cloud labor or crowd computing.

With the rise of the digital marketplace also came a plethora of new digital and social marketing and advertising agencies, many of which were snapped up by giants like WPP to infuse some new thinking and “innovation” into their traditional direct marketing and advertising execution methods.

But now, comes the news that Nissan (who has switched their slogan from “Innovation for All” to “Innovation that Excites”) has created their own Marketing Innovation Lab rather than just relying on their roster of agencies to bring them innovations. Nissan may not be the only company to do something similar, but it begs the question, where should marketing innovation come from?

Obviously Nissan doesn’t feel that they are getting enough innovation in their marketing efforts from their agencies, and it makes you wonder, shouldn’t it be the agencies not the companies who are looking to find and support upstart companies and apps with marketing and media potential?

Well, why should any company look to source innovation from any one place, even if it is marketing innovation?

I would say that every company looking to succeed at ANY type of innovation should be looking to collect dots to connect from as many sources as possible, including:

  1. Agencies and Advisory Firms
  2. Co-Creation with Customers
  3. Crowdsourcing
  4. Partners
  5. Suppliers
  6. Competitors
  7. Adjacent Industries
  8. Distant Industries
  9. Market Research (ethnography, surveys, focus groups, trends, etc.)
  10. Startups
  11. … (insert your favorite here)

So, where will your next marketing innovation come from?

And, who are you working with from outside in order to bring innovation inside?


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Innovation Costs of Reducing the Flow of Immigrants and Travelers to USA

Innovation Costs of Reducing the Flow of Immigrants and Travelers to USA

September 11th was a traumatic event for the psychology of the nation but also for its innovation capacity. After 9/11 the United States started admitting fewer highly skilled immigrants, invited fewer students to come study here, and companies and consumers cut back on their travel budgets.

These factors, along with many others, combined to reduce the amount of face to face collaboration and created new innovation headwinds for the country.

In 2001, Michael Porter of Harvard Business School published a report ranking the United States as #1 in terms of innovative capacity. By 2009, the Economist Intelligence Unit had dropped the United States in its innovation rankings from #3 between 2002 – 2006 to #4 between 2004 – 2008. The most recent Global Innovation Index has the United States falling from #1 in 2009 to #7 in 2011 — behind Switzerland, Sweden, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, and Denmark.

If you’re the United States, not being #1 anymore is a definite concern. Innovation drives job creation, and any decrease in the pace of domestic innovation will ultimately lead to lower economic growth. As the United States slides down the innovation rankings, restrictive immigration policies suddenly look less smart.

The number of foreign student visas increased by a third during the 90s, peaking in 2001 at 293,357 before dropping post-9/11 by 20 percent nearly overnight. It took five years before foreign student visa numbers recovered to 2001 levels. Last year, 331,208 foreign student visas were issued.

But a drop-off in highly skilled immigration does not account for the entire drop in America’s innovation leadership. Another headwind that hit post-9/11 was the drop-off in travel in America. In August 2001, 65.4 million airline passengers traveled to the country. It took three years for passenger growth to resume.

Travel — both corporate and leisure — is important to innovation for three main reasons:

  1. People see and experience things that spark new ideas
  2. Face-to-face meetings deepen human connection and improve productivity and collaboration.
  3. Innovation partnerships and acquisitions are often made in-person.

The United States is at an innovation crossroads. We must commit to attracting more innovators to this country, and to traveling abroad more. Not doing so is guaranteed to exacerbate America’s slide from innovation leader to laggard.

This article first appeared on The Atlantic before drifting into the archive

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