Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Business-Model Renaissance For Building Brands

The last several months of this new journey of mine has been a really interesting one. As i think about why, a few things come to mind:

  • I have worked on a truly diverse set of projects, from strategic ideation design and facilitation, to ethnography projects, desk research analysis / report writing, interactive informational architecture design, etc.
  • I have worked in a number of roles:  project scoping / pitching partner, insight lead, strategy consultant, even project manager in some cases
  • I have connected and reconnected with a variety of partners agencies,  clients and other tangential practitioners / players on our great stage of cultural understanding and marketing strategy.

It’s this third bullet that I am finding most engaging these days, which leads to the topic of this blog.  Namely, I am starting to see some empirical validation of a patterns emerging in the ways we do business.  Surely there have been lots of perspectives put forward on this, and i have read a few here and there…but here is mine:

The model of how we conduct the business of brand strategy (this includes consumer insights, marketing strategy, innovation and all of those things that fall under the grand holistic umbrella) is experiencing a renaissance.

On the one hand, for clients, it is becoming more and more cumbersome to match the evolving depth and breadth of research, strategy and marketing needs to a cohesive set of suppliers….let alone one supplier who can do it all.  Can you rely on your ad agency to also do good research?  Are they developing strategies with solution neutrality in mind, or are they mostly trying to maximize their ad revenue?  Is their mix suitably balanced above, below and along-side the line?  Is it necessary to have a multicultural agency?  Do you need design specialists?  Does your brand need an overhaul that requires a rock-star innovation shop?  Do you have separate qualitative and quantitative research suppliers?  Most importantly, do all of your agencies play nice together?  Are all of your internal teams aligned on objectives and resources?  YIKES!

Then there’s a whole other set of issues for suppliers.  The bigger ad agencies have beefed- up their offerings with cognitive anthropology departments, strategy specialists and the like.  It’s easier to do this when you are working on a retainer basis with clients and can afford to grow while you learn how to add value.  The smaller guys, however, have the challenge of working on a project basis while trying to keep a steady roster of resources available in-house to meet their diverse and evolving clients’ needs.  Often times projects are sold without the right resources even on the radar to get the work done because all of the buzz-words needed to be included in the proposal to get the job.  Clients rarely see this, but it causes a lot of stress on agency resources that are in-house and ultimately responsible for delivering successful results…which can lead to less than robust results, let alone profit-margins.

What is really interesting to me is how suppliers are evolving thier businesss models to offer better solutions to clients while being able to sustain their business integrity and livelihoods.  The new model is one of partnership, not head count….and I find it to be profoundly inspired.

Personally, I work very closely (as an “official” partner in some situations, more informally in others) with a network of suppliers that are all extremely talented and / or seasoned and/or innovative and /or creative.  They all have unique offerings and are all at the top of their game.  And every week i have dialogues with different agencies, consultants, published authors, etc. with a right to a point of view, and have the opportunity to look at what they do in the context of the types of client projects I work on.

As The Brand Sherpa, I have been finding the value in first truly understanding the needs of clients (new and old); the dynamics of their organization and the nuances of their objectives and goals,  in order to objectively arrive at the right road map for their journey.  A lot of the time, the skill sets I have to offer personally are enough and i can engage as an independent contractor.  However, more often i am finding that BOTH my clients and my supplier partners are in need of a unique set of skills that don’t necessarily all exist in one place.

It is the art and science of creating the “Rock Star” project team that i think may be the biggest task  clients truly need help with.  And if you truly think about it, this is a practice not far removed at all from recruiting research samples, designing strategic ideation sessions with the right roster of participants, or designing innovation projects with the right mix of tools, processes and players.

I know for me it’s something I am actively doing more of and plan on developing more formally as a Brand Sherpa offering. In the interest of true evolution inspired by the world around me, I would really love to hear more from my peers on this topic.  How do you manage (whether you are a client or supplier) finding and providing the right mix of services to get you down the path to true return on investment?  Are the challenges I have posed here true and relevant to you and  your business?  have you seen similar patterns or is your experience completely different?

This Sherpa truly appreciates the value of a diverse set of perspectives to help her understand and navigate the road ahead.


Virtual Spaces and Consumer Anthropology

Surely, if we are going to study humans in their natural habitats; how they interact with one another, how they interact with brands, how they purchase, consume, etc., it stands to reason that all “natural habitats” are fair game.

This means we need to remind ourselves of all the spaces where humans interact with…well…anything.  The physical world is one.  The virtual world is a whole other spinning ball-o-wax.  And the fun part is…it’s one  we are still growing into, which means we (as researchers as well as humans and consumers) have the power to shape it.

So, as Consumer Anthropologists, where do we begin?  Consumers are still figuring it all out.  We having been trying on the “internets”:  email, bulletin boards, websites, social networking sites, “tweets”, virtual gaming worlds, etc. for almost a couple of decades now.  Mobile communication technology has also evolved steadily from paging technology, to mobile conversation, SMS / Texting, on-the-go-photo and video,  GPS and now Apps-a-plenty….and it will keep moving.

Soon all of it may / will merge:  anyone read Spook Country by William Gibson?

Our job is to figure out, while the world keeps spinning, how to evolve and maintain the data balance to allow for the advantages and risks of using the online and mobile world as an anthropological study universe.  So many opportunities to use for our proprietary research as well as the projects we tackle for our clients:

  • analysis of cultural phenomenon happening in purely virtual spaces (e.g. facebook / orkut / kuku, youtube, etc.)
  • analysis of user-generated content in specific cultural context areas or with regard to Brand dialogue (social networking sites, blogs, etc)
  • crowd sourcing data from custom recruited “panels” using online spaces and mobile technology
  • development of mobile ethnography “apps” as proprietary data collection tools
  • etc.
  • etc.
  • etc.

I am deeply interested in hearing from my peers and other “future game changers”  out there who are dealing with  or anticipating consumer anthropology application with regard to virtual spaces and mobile communication.  What have you been using?  What do you think are our opportunities and limits?  How will “web 2.0”, etc. change the game?  Lets hear it.

Understanding The Future Workforce Means Better Client Engagements and Higher ROI

The link below is to an article / discussion on the future of work. I think it’s an interesting discussion. I have been engaged recently in dialogues on what the next great innovation will be (see Front End of Innovation group on LinkedIn) and my POV is that it will be in use of human capital, intellectual property and other ways to empower human creativity and the value of ideas.

One of the jobs of a good Brand Sherpa is to truly understand how to lead my client’s organizations through their journey. In order to do this, i need not only learn the ins and outs of their category, business, consumer targets and consumer culture context. An integral part of my offering is understanding the culture my clients are operating in and the realities of how their cross-functional teams interact and the best way to lead them and deliver results so that the impact of the work is maximized and the business can see ROI.

There are big changes happening in workplace culture. Typically leading this pack are marketing and brand organizations that understand the value of talent and creativity to preparing their brands for future success.

Here is the article i am referring to. I hope you enjoy. Would love to hear your thoughts.