The 2017 P&G Alumni Global Conference took place this month in Cincinnati, OH with the theme of “Catapult” (though sadly, no actual catapults were involved). It was a fast-paced few days with multiple special events to choose from in addition to the two-day central conference. StartUp Week, Brandtopia, BLINK, and many other events were also going on in Cincinnati that same week so the city was alive with entrepreneurial energy.
There was a range of compelling speakers and topics with particularly strong content on change and innovation. Here are three of the key themes from the conference that are broadly relevant (not just for P&G alumni!).
1. Not-so-new media
As Kirk Perry of Google shared, “reach is plentiful; attention is scarce.” Digital and mobile were key themes at the conference and Gary Vaynerchuk told us that traditional TV is the most overpriced media out there (except for Superbowl ads, which he feels are actually a good value). Mr. Vaynerchuk would have brands put all their media budgets against Facebook ads (especially long-form video) and digital influencers.
While he made some compelling points, I do think there is a fundamental difference between growing a new start-up from zero (the majority of his examples) and the challenge of sustaining and incrementally growing a behemoth existing brand. Digital should clearly represent a larger share of marketing spend than ever before, and for start-ups probably their entire spend, but I think TV still has a role to play for big brands, particularly among certain consumer targets.
2. Brands in service
Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed, told us that brand loyalty is being redefined in the digital age to the brand being loyal to and serving its audience (versus the other way around). “Consumers have become gods”, Rishad Tobaccowala of Publicis Groupe stated boldly in his provocative talk. According to Mr. Tobaccowala, it’s outdated to say brands empower or enable people. Instead, brands need to meet and serve people where they are. Personally, I can’t tell you how many brand purpose statements I’ve read that include “we exist to empower consumers…” or “Brand X enables you to…” so I consider that a pretty revolutionary, and humbling, statement.
How can brands serve people? Providing experiences was a common theme. A few ideas from Mr. Perry included: providing magical experiences (simplify everything and provide utility), seamless assistance, and immersive experiences (using AR and VR). Andrew Swinand, Leo Burnett Group, also reminded us to always ask, “what human problem are you solving?” and shared some beautiful examples from Samsung, including ‘Safety Trucks’ with screens on the back to see around, a ‘Voices of Life’ app that helps premature babies feel close to mom, and the use of virtual reality to make live theater engaging for deaf people.
3. Culture is critical
When it comes to driving cultural change, Nigel Vaz, Publicis Sapient said the most important thing is just to start. Model and encourage the behaviors that will create the desired culture. Mr. Vaz suggested three steps to kick-starting cultural change: build common ground, organize to drive change, and embrace and embed change. A slightly different take on culture came from John Zeally, Accenture, who told us that within a company, you “need to have a culture of cultures, but a single set of values.”
Culture must be modeled from the top down, and in her talk entitled “Dare to Serve”, Cheryl Bachelder, former CEO of Popeye’s, challenged us to take the “best test” by asking, “are the people better off because of my leadership?” She encouraged humility and courage, and even love, as part of servant leadership. Bracken Darrell, Logitech, encouraged reducing hierarchy to enhance culture and productivity, saying, “the new model is partnerships. The flatter you can get your organization, the more you activate people.” Mr. Darrell also advocated for doing away with employee surveys, which got an enthusiastically positive response from the audience!
We all have clients. Whether you’re in a corporate setting, a supplier or consultancy, or work independently or freelance, your clients are your bosses, team leaders, functional heads, customers, and other stakeholders. We’ve all experienced a spectrum of positive and negative client experiences, and by taking a closer look at these ups and downs—and evaluating what works and what doesn’t—I’ve identified three steps you can take to build better clients:
1. Build a Better Brief
The biggest disappointments in client relationships tend to come from missed expectations. Perhaps they weren’t stated clearly by the client, understood clearly by the person doing the work, or, sometimes, the client hasn’t taken the time to think through what they really do want. In any case, a better brief can help.
Depending on your specific role, a brief could be a request for proposal, a creative brief, a project charter, etc. Whatever form it takes, there are a few critical questions that should always be addressed:
2. Build in Enough Time
A common mistake in creating project timelines is to underestimate the time required for activities outside the project itself. These include things like: upfront briefing and alignment, check-ins and updates along the way, reviews and feedback (potentially multiple rounds), and follow ups after initial project completion. The consequence of not building in adequate time for these things ranges from missed deadlines to compromised quality to going over budget—or getting underpaid.
To increase the accuracy of your timelines, draw on past project experience (your own and/or getting input from other team members) and think through the times that felt rushed, required trade-offs, and were otherwise unanticipated time-draws. This isn’t about creating padded or unnecessarily long timelines; by planning for these connection and feedback points up front, you can often be more efficient overall, or at least more accurate.
If you’re in a consulting or supplier role, try keeping track of time spent by type of activity (e.g. project work vs. client meetings, etc.) and keep a record for each project, which will help you better estimate for future projects over time. Regularly updating project timelines with actual dates and keeping them on file for future reference will help in corporate settings.
Robust, accurate and well-planned project timelines set appropriate expectations up front with clients, allow clients to be better prepared to provide inputs and feedback, and allow you to delight clients by delivering on time, as promised.
3. Build Relationships
Chatting and small talk don’t come naturally to everyone (myself included), but spending a bit of time on pleasantries adds an element of human connection that not only makes interactions more enjoyable, but also increases trust and sharing—and increases the odds that you’ll get the benefit of the doubt if needed. Remember when you’re writing an email that there’s an actual person on the other end and use a more conversational tone when appropriate. Open a phone call or in-person meeting with a couple of minutes of informal conversation. Gauge your audience of course—some people will be eager to get down to business and others would be happy to talk about their hobbies or kids for hours, but a sincere interest in your client as a person tends to go a long way.
Understand and respect their professional context and preferences as well. Find out how they prefer to communicate, certain days or times that are best to reach them or other facts that will make your communication more efficient and customized. Getting some context on who their key clients are, the priority of the project within their total responsibilities or within the overall organization, etc. will allow you to appear savvy and in-touch as well as helping you become a go-to, strategic business partner.
Practice professional empathy with your clients. Try to put yourself in their shoes and understand their motivations and priorities. This can help you proactively tailor messages and deliverables and give you context to understand feedback and reactions. You’ll obviously invest more in building relationships with clients who are ongoing business partners or regular customers, but practice these approaches on a smaller scale with potential or new clients, in a sincere and authentic way, and they might just end up becoming ongoing clients (or key internal advocates) as well!
Do you remember getting new school supplies as a child at the start of each school year? The perfection of newly sharpened pencils with pristine erasers, the intoxicating smell of those fruit-scented markers, and the sharp crack of a hardback textbook’s spine the first time you opened it.
Well, it’s back to school time and for most of us, those are fairly distant memories. However, dear reader, I believe we share a love of lifetime learning so here for your reading enjoyment is a list of books I recommend for insights on innovation. If you come across one that’s new to you and decide to read it, I hope you will find a bit of inspiration or a nugget of knowledge to apply in the year to come and beyond.
1. A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, Warren Berger: explore the art of questioning and its application for innovation. Berger provides some simple frameworks to successfully use questioning and interesting examples of innovators whose inquiries led to breakthroughs.
2. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, Eric Ries: the Lean Startup primer for anyone interested in entrepreneurship or innovation in general; somewhat technology industry focused, but principles are more broadly applicable.
3. Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works, Ash Maurya: valuable for startups; he builds on concepts from other thinkers in space (e.g. Eric Ries and Steve Blank) but gives many more practical tips and real world examples for applying lean startup principles.
4. Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman: a seminal work for anyone interested in why people do what they do. Fair warning, this one is long and a bit dry and academic in parts, but I think it’s still worth it for a deep and thorough understanding of System 1 vs. System 2 thinking.
5. Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results, Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg: I read this one as part of the Innovation & Design MOOC offered by University of Cincinnati, but the book stands alone as as instruction manual for creative brainstorming techniques that work.
6. Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, Tim Brown: Conceptual book about design thinking with lots of IDEO examples. This isn’t a “how to” book—there’s not a lot of practical application tips, but it does have great examples from a range of companies and is fun to read.
7. The Myths of Creativity: The Truth about How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas, David Burkus: Insightful and inspiring book about creativity, useful for both individuals and entire organizations. Debunks common creativity myths and gives the message that everyone can be creative.
8. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip Heath and Dan Heath: a great idea is only great if you can get others to remember and act on it so this book gives lots of ways to make ideas “stickier” with lots of fun examples.
9. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Daniel Pink: I read this several years ago and I feel like I have already seen the trends shifting as he predicts and believe they will only accelerate as we continue to move from the “information” to the “conceptual” age.
10. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini: This book is all about how to get people to say "yes". I actually read this book in college and still reference what I learned from it—it’s the essential guide to persuasion for marketers and market researchers.
Bonus Reads: For My Fellow Researchers
11. Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You, Sam Gosling: a psychologist’s take on what you can learn about people based on their stuff. It explores the connection between belongings and the “big five” personality traits (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeability, and Neuroticism). Great read for those who regularly conduct ethnographic/observational research.
12. Nickel & Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Barbara Ehrenreich: I recommend this book for exercising your empathy muscle and getting a unique take on anthropological research. The author tells the story of her experiment to live on poverty-level wages for a time. While this book is not without detractors (namely that the experiment was conducted by an otherwise wealthy white woman who got to go back to her “real life”), I think it still paints a compelling portrait of a specific life experience.
Did I miss one of your favorites? I’d love to get some of your top recommendations too so please leave a comment to this post with one of your favorite innovation titles.
Note: I provided hyperlinks to each book on Amazon purely for convenience, but of course, I also recommend checking your local library or independent bookstore.
Sarah Faulkner, Principal, Faulkner Strategic Consulting