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All businesses, no matter what they make or sell, should recognize the power and financial value of good design.

Obviously, there are many different types of design: graphic, brand, packaging, product, process, interior, interaction/user experience, Web and service design, to name but a few.

We are referring to design as a broad and deliberately applied discipline, with the aim of creating simpler, more meaningful, rewarding experiences for customers.

You see, expecting great design is no longer the preserve of a picky design-obsessed urban elite—that aesthetically sensitive clique who‘d never dare leave the house without their Philippe Starck eyewear and turtleneck sweaters and buy only the right kind of Scandinavian furniture. Instead, there’s a new, mass expectation of good design: that products and services will be better thought through, simplified, made more intuitive, elegant and more enjoyable to use.

Design has finally become democratized, and we marketers find ourselves with new standards to meet in this new “era of design.” To illustrate, Apple, the epitome of a design-led organization, now has a market capitalization of $570 billion, larger than the GDP of Switzerland. Its revenue is double Microsoft’s, a similar type of technology organization but one not truly led by design (just compare Microsoft Windows with Apple’s Lion operating system).

Every day Twitter feeds populate with astounding growth facts about the likes of Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Pinterest and the more recent travel site, AirBnB. It is no coincidence that these successful brands seem to really value design and utilize it to secure a competitive advantage.

Even the UK government has issued its “design principles,” naturally on a clean, easy-to-navigate website.

But why have people become so design sensitive? Why does that credit card mailer look so bad and dated now? Why can’t you access our account details? Why does airport signage seem so unhelpful? Why doesn’t that technology plug and play?

Perhaps Apple’s global dominance has elevated our design expectations, or Ikea’s vision to bring great design at affordable prices to everyone on the planet has finally taken effect, or perhaps the Internet has taught us what well-designed user experiences and good design really are. Likely, it is a combination of all.


Think how swiftly and strongly a design experience shapes our opinion of that brand, company or store, for good or bad. For instance, we know quickly when a website is bad. And we associate that feeling of frustration, or worse, disappointment with that brand.

Design-oriented organizations invest in thinking this stuff through. They put design at the heart of their company to guide innovation and to continually improve products, service and marketing. They recognize that a great design leads to differentiation, customer loyalty and higher profits.

First Direct, a UK bank, has designed all its service touchpoints so carefully that it has become the most referred financial brand in the UK, with over 82 percent of customers happy to recommend it to friends. It’s a joy to use via any channel, and despite being a bank, I’d happily recommend it.

When you buy Apple Care, instead of receiving the standard bland letter or email, you receive a nicely designed box containing the paperwork, guidance and all the information you need. You have questions? No problem. There are clear user diagrams and a simple section on the website to help you.

The impact on brand is that customers see these brands as both progressive and customer-centric. Thoughtful and innovative design makes us feel good. It is no surprise that we are happy to advocate them, talk about them in social media and can be fiercely brand loyal.

As Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, once said, “A brand is a living entity—and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.” That thinking still holds true, but it all happens a lot faster now. Thanks to the Internet and a hyperconnected, social-media-fueled society, brands can be instantly undermined and that experience shared with millions.

So this is a call to action for executives to recognize this new era and make the effort to transform even a mundane product or service into something more rewarding and more memorable. Try to assess each element of your service or product and better it—to see design not just as a marketing thing but as a genuine source of competitive advantage, customer and employee satisfaction and, lastly, a route to higher profits.


business design
Almost every company competes to some degree on the basis of continual innovation. And to be commercially successful, new product and service ideas must, of course, meet a real—or perceived—customer need. Hence the current managerial mantras: “Get close to the customer” and “Listen to the voice of the customer.” The problem is, customers’ ability to guide the development of new products and services is limited by their experience and their ability to imagine and describe possible innovations. How can companies identify needs that customers themselves may not recognize? How can designers develop ways to meet those needs, if even in the course of extensive market research, customers never mention their desires because they assume those desires can’t be fulfilled?

A set of techniques we call empathic design can help resolve those dilemmas.

At its foundation is observation—watching consumers use products or services. But unlike in focus groups, usability laboratories, and other contexts of traditional market research, such observation is conducted in the customer’s own environment—in the course of normal, everyday routines. In such a context, researchers can gain access to a host of information that is not accessible through other observation-oriented research methods.

The techniques of empathic design—gathering, analyzing, and applying information gleaned from observation in the field—are familiar to top engineering/design companies and to a few forward-thinking manufacturers, but they are not common practice. Nor are they taught in marketing courses, being more akin to anthropology than marketing science. In fact, few companies are set up to employ empathic design; the techniques require unusual collaborative skills that many organizations have not developed. Market researchers generally use text or numbers to spark ideas for new products, but empathic designers use visual information as well. Traditional researchers are generally trained to gather data in relative isolation from other disciplines; empathic design demands creative interactions among members of an interdisciplinary team.

Developing the expertise, however, is a worthy investment. Empathic design is a relatively low-cost, low-risk way to identify potentially critical customer needs. It’s an important source of new product ideas, and it has the potential to redirect a company’s technological capabilities toward entirely new businesses.

When Questions Don’t Yield Answers 

When a product or service is well understood, traditional marketing science provides amazingly sophisticated ways to gain useful information from potential customers and influence their purchasing decisions. Consider how subtle are preferences of smell and sound, yet car manufacturers can design automobile interiors to evoke the specific scent of expensive leather that U.S. buyers expect in a luxury vehicle. Nissan Design International tested more than 90 samples of leather before selecting 3 that U.S. noses preferred for the Infinity J-30. Similarly, manufacturers are adept at fine-tuning engines so that they make the preferred sounds associated with surging power and swift acceleration. Harley-Davidson, in fact, has sued competitors that have imitated the voices of its motors, which have been carefully adjusted to please its customers’ ears. Customers can guide an auto or motorcycle manufacturer in making even minute adjustments in its offering because they are familiar with the products and have developed over time a finely honed set of desires and perceived needs. In fact, the driving experience is so deeply ingrained that they can re-create most of the needs they encounter while on the road even when they are not actually in the driver’s seat.

The practices of traditional marketing science are also effective in situations where consumers are already familiar with a proposed solution to a problem because of their experiences with it in a different context. Peel-away postage stamps were an innovation that customers could comprehend because they had already encountered the light adhesives used in Post-it Notes and peel-away labels.

But sometimes, customers are so accustomed to current conditions that they don’t think to ask for a new solution—even if they have real needs that could be addressed. Habit tends to inure us to inconvenience; as consumers, we create “work-arounds” that become so familiar we may forget that we are being forced to behave in a less-than-optimal fashion—and thus we may be incapable of telling market researchers what we really want. 

Sometimes, customers are so accustomed to current conditions that they don’t think to ask for a new solution.

For example, when asked about an editing function in a software package, one customer had no complaints—until she sat down to use the program in front of the observer. Then she realized that her work was disrupted when the program did not automatically wrap text around graphics while she edited. Accustomed to working around the problem, she had not mentioned it in earlier interviews. 

Market research is generally unhelpful when a company has developed a new technological capability that is not tied to a familiar consumer paradigm. If no current product exists in the market that embodies at least the most primitive form of a new product, consumers have no foundation on which to formulate their opinions. When radio technology was first introduced in the early twentieth century, it was used solely for transmitting Morse code and voice communication from point to point. Only after David Sarnoff suggested in 1915 that such technology could be better employed in broadcasting news, music, and baseball games was the “radio music box” born. Sarnoff had put his knowledge of the technology together with what he found when he observed families gathered in their homes to envision a totally different use for the technology. No one had asked for broadcasting because they didn’t know it was feasible.

So there are many reasons why standard techniques of inquiry rarely lead to truly novel product concepts. It is extremely difficult to design an instrument for market research that is amenable to quantitative analysis and also open-ended enough to capture a customer’s environment completely. Market researchers have to contend with respondents’ tendency to try to please the inquirer by providing expected answers, as well as their inclination to avoid embarrassment by not revealing practices they suspect might be deemed inappropriate. The people who design surveys, run focus groups, and interview customers further cloud the results by inadvertently—and inevitably—introducing their own biases into the questioning. When a customer’s needs are solicited in writing or through constrained dialogue, pummeled with statistical logic, and delivered to product developers in compressed form, critical information may be missing. But why would observation be a better approach?

What We Learn from Observation 

Watching consumers has always yielded obvious, but still tremendously valuable, basic information. Consider usability: Is the package difficult to open? Does the user have to resort to the manual, or are operating principles clearly telegraphed by the design? Are handles, knobs, and distances from the floor designed ergonomically? Does the user hesitate or seem confused at any point? What unspoken and possibly false assumptions are guiding the user’s interaction with the product?

You can easily get that sort of feedback by watching people work with your products in usability labs and by testing for various ergonomic requirements. It is the additional information gained from seeing your customers actually use your product or service in their own physical environment that makes empathic design an imperative. Empathic-design techniques can yield at least five types of information that cannot be gathered through traditional marketing or product research.

Triggers of Use. 

What circumstances prompt people to use your product or service? Do your customers turn to your offering when, and in the way, you expected? If they don’t, there may be an opportunity for your company.

Consider what Hewlett-Packard learned in the early 1990s by observing users of the HP 95/100 LX series of personal digital assistants (PDAs). The company allied itself with Lotus Development Corporation to produce the PDA mainly because its product developers knew that their “road warrior” consumers valued the computing power of Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet software. But when HP’s researchers watched customers actually using the product, they found that the personal-organizer software the company had also licensed from Lotus was at least as important a trigger for using the PDA as the spreadsheet was.

When the makers of Cheerios went out in the field, they found that breakfast wasn’t necessarily the primary purpose for which certain households were using the cereal. Parents of small children, they found, were more interested in the fact that the pieces could be bagged, carried, and doled out one by one as a tidy snack anytime, anywhere to occupy restless tots.

And when the brand manager for a spray-on cooking oil saw his neighbor using the product on the bottom of his lawn mower, he discovered an entirely unexpected trigger. Pressed to explain, the neighbor pointed out that the oil prevented cut grass from adhering to the bottom of the mower and did no harm to the lawn. Such unanticipated usage patterns can identify opportunities not only for innovation and product redesign but also for entering entirely new markets. 

Interactions with the User’s Environment. 

How does your product or service fit into your users’ own idiosyncratic systems—whether they be a household routine, an office operation, or a manufacturing process? Consider what Intuit, maker of the personal-finance software package Quicken, learns through its “Follow Me Home” program, in which product developers gain permission from first-time buyers to observe their initial experience with the software in their own homes. Intuit, of course, learns a good deal about its product’s packaging, documentation, and installation from this exercise, as well as about the user friendliness of its software. But it can gather that kind of information in a usability laboratory. What Intuit can’t reliably learn in any way other than by watching someone boot up Quicken on a home computer is what other software applications are running on that customer’s system and how that software can interfere with or complement Quicken’s own operation. Moreover, product developers can see what other data files the customer refers to and might wish to access directly, what state of organization or disarray such files are in, and whether they are on paper or in electronic form. It was from such in-home observations that Intuit designers discovered that many small-business owners were using Quicken to keep their books.

Some small changes that can result from watching people use your product in their own environment can also be competitively important. When engineers from a manufacturer of laboratory equipment visited a customer, they noticed that the equipment emitted a high level of air pollution when it was being used for certain applications. That observation motivated the company to add a venting hood to its product line. Current users were so accustomed to the unpleasant smell that they had never thought to mention it and didn’t regard a venting hood as an important enhancement—until it was available. Then the company’s sales force found the hood to be a compelling sales point when customers compared the product with those of competitors.

User Customization. 

Do users reinvent or redesign your product to serve their own purposes? Producers of industrial equipment observed users taping pieces of paper to their product to serve as identifying labels. The manufacturer gained an inexpensive, but appreciable, advantage over the competition when it incorporated a flat protected space for such machine-specific information into its next model. And every Japanese automaker has set up a design studio in southern California because fanatical car owners there are prone to modifying their cars, often substantially, to meet their particular desires, be they functional (more cargo space, larger engines) or ego-intensive (spoilers, special wheels, new colors). Observing these users helps designers at Nissan and Toyota envision the potential evolution of specific models—and gives them a window on the possible future of cars and trucks in general.

Sometimes, users combine several existing products to solve a problem, not only revealing new uses for traditional products but also highlighting their shortcomings. A prominent producer of household cleaners handed video cameras to family members to record how its products were really being used in people’s basements. The company then could see homemakers concocting their own recipes for particular household chores, such as washing white curtains (“one cup baking soda, one cup dishwashing detergent,” and so on). 

Observers saw people combining beepers and cell phones not to answer calls but to screen them.

Similarly, in the course of studying consumers’ mobile-communication needs, consultants at the Chicago-based Doblin Group, observed individuals creatively combining beepers and cell phones so they could be just as available as they wished—and no more. These consumers gave special beeper codes to friends and relatives to screen out undesired interruptions. That suggested to the firm the need for filtering capabilities on cell phones.

Intangible Attributes of the Product. 

What kinds of peripheral or intangible attributes does your product or service have? Customers rarely name such attributes in focus groups or surveys, but those unseen factors may constitute a kind of emotional franchise—and thus an opportunity. When watching videos of homemakers using cleansers and detergents, representatives of the household-products company could see how often the smell of the products evoked satisfaction with their use, engendered feelings of nostalgia (“My mother used this”) or elicited other emotional responses (“When it smells clean, it makes all my work worthwhile”).

Such intangible, invisible product assets can be augmented, exploited, or redirected. After visiting the homes of Kimberly-Clark customers, consultants at the Palo Alto, California-based design firm GVO recognized the emotional appeal of pull-on diapers to parents and toddlers, who saw them as a step toward “grown-up” dress. Diapers were clothing, the observers realized, and had to highly symbolic as well as functional meaning. Huggies Pull-Ups were rolled out nationally in 1991, and by the time competitors caught on, the company was selling $400 million worth of the product annually.

Failing to note such intangible attributes can sink a new product. Environmentally friendly disks that clean washer loads of clothes without detergents have yet to attract a mass market—in large part, according to the Doblin Group’s observational research, because they don’t produce the expected clean-clothes smell. 

Unarticulated User Needs. 

The application of empathic design that holds the greatest potential benefit is the observation of current or possible customers encountering problems with your products or services that they don’t know can be addressed and may not even recognize as problems. What do you see people being unable to do that would clearly be beneficial?

A product developer from Hewlett-Packard sat in an operating room observing a surgeon at work. The surgeon was guiding his scalpel by watching the patient’s body and his own hands displayed on a television screen. As nurses walked around the room, they would periodically obscure the surgeon’s view of the screen and the operation for a few seconds. No one complained. But this unacknowledged problem caused the developer to ponder the possibility of creating a lightweight helmet that could suspend the images a few inches in front of the surgeon’s eyes. Her company had the technology to create such a product. The surgeon would never have thought to ask for it, even though its potential to improve productivity, increase accuracy, and make the surgeon’s work easier was substantial.

Unarticulated needs abound in daily routines, even when a technological solution exists. For example, Nissan Design’s president, Jerry Hirshberg, was driving along a freeway one day when he saw a couple at the side of the road wrestling the back seat of a competitor’s minivan out of the way so they could pick up a new couch. “We bought this so we would have room,” they told him, “but we can’t use it for what we want without taking out the seats.” They would never have thought of asking for any solution to their problem, but one immediately occurred to Hirshberg—six-foot runners that would enable van owners to fold up the back-seats and slide them out of the way, thus easily creating cargo room.

Weyerhaeuser won an important advantage in the market for particle board after observing an unarticulated need during a visit to a customer’s plant. The customer, a major furniture maker, created table legs by laminating together narrow boards produced by some of Weyerhaeuser’s competitors. Unable either to match the competitors’ prices or to convince the customer to pay higher prices for superior quality, Weyerhaeuser instead came up with a new way to make table legs—a new, much thicker particle board that did not have to be laminated. The consequent savings to customers in tooling and labor costs put Weyerhaeuser back in the competitive running.

Some stunning product ideas come from an engineer or designer who actually uses the products he or she develops because this individual combines knowledge of unexpressed needs with knowledge of how to fill those needs. U.S. women were annoyed for years by the inappropriateness of using a man’s safety razor, designed for faces, on their underarms and legs. When a female designer reshaped the razor for a woman’s hand and needs—the Gillette Lady Sensor—it was enormously successful.

The oft-repeated advice to “delight the customer” assumes real meaning when product or service providers push beyond what their customers anticipate to deliver the unexpected—and technology is a primary agent of such delight. But all companies have capabilities they are failing to tap in their quest to create innovative products and services because those who know what can be done are not generally in direct contact with those who need something done. Empathic-design techniques thus exploit a company’s existing technological capabilities in the widest sense of the term. When a company’s representatives explore their customers’ worlds with the eyes of a fresh observer while simultaneously carrying the knowledge of what is possible for the company to do, they can redirect existing organizational capabilities toward new markets. Consider it a process of mining knowledge assets for new veins of innovation. Usually, much of the basic underlying technology or service methodologies already exist; they just need to be applied differently. 

Empathic-design techniques can’t replace market research; rather, they contribute to the flow of ideas that need further testing.

One important note: empathic-design techniques cannot replace market research; rather, they contribute to the flow of ideas that need further scientific testing before a company commits itself to any full-fledged development project.

Empathic Design: the Process 

Companies can engage in empathic design, or similar techniques such as contextual inquiry, in a variety of ways. However, most employ the following five-step process: 

Step One: Observation 

It’s important to clarify who should be observed, who should do the observing, and what the observer should be watching.

Step Two: Capturing Data 

Because empathic-design techniques stress observation over inquiry, relatively few data are gathered through responses to questions. Most data are gathered from visual, auditory, and sensory cues. Thus empathic-design teams very frequently use photography and videography as tools.

Step Three: Reflection and Analysis 

After gathering data in many forms, the team members return to reflect on what they have observed and to review their visual data with other colleagues. Those individuals—unhampered by possibly extraneous information, such as the reputations of the individuals or companies visited or the weather at the observation site—will focus on the data before them, and they, too, will see different things. 

Step Four: Brainstorming for Solutions 

Brainstorming is a valuable part of any innovation process; within the empathic-design process, it is used specifically to transform the observations into graphic, visual representations of possible solutions. 

Step Five: Developing Prototypes of Possible Solutions 

Clearly, prototypes are not unique to empathic design. But the more radical an innovation, of course, the harder it is to understand how it should look, function, and be used. Just as researchers gather useful visual data, so too can they stimulate communication by creating some physical representation of a new concept for a product or service. 

Empathic Design as a Culture Shift 

A common criticism of the kinds of innovative ideas arising through empathic design is, “But users haven’t asked for that.” Precisely. By the time they do, your competitors will have the same new-product ideas you have—and you will be in the “me-too” game of copying and improving their ideas. Empathic-design techniques involve a twist on the idea that new-product development should be guided by users. In this approach, they still do—they just don’t know it.

Empathic design pushes innovation beyond producing the same thing only better. So for example, computer company managers who have been exposed to a deep cultural understanding of mobility no longer think only of making lighter, faster, and more durable laptops. Instead, they are challenged to consider other communication needs a portable computer might meet. Developing a deep, empathic understanding of users’ unarticulated needs can challenge industry assumptions and lead to a shift in corporate strategy.

Source Harvard Business Review

innovationbusiness designbusiness strategycustomer experienceexperience designcustomer serviceglobal trendscompany culture

Some companies are just better at making sure customers feel good. 

And there is a whole industry based around maximizing customer experience at "all points of contact" with a company, according to customer experience consulting company Beyond Philosophy. Interestingly, after the company interviewed 53 customer experience executives as part of its 2011 Global Customer Experience Management Survey it found that investing more resources in a better customer experience doesn't necessarily result in happier customers. 




Even though they are among the companies spending the most on customer experience, for example, companies like Hewlitt-Packard and HSBC performed among the worst of all surveyed companies. Instead, people's feelings about a company often depend on the company's ability to gauge customer emotions, which "account for more than half the typical customer experience," according to the survey. 


Tech companies, including Apple, are especially good at understanding customer emotions, according to the survey. The iPhone maker recently came out on top in the American Customer Satisfaction Index and JD Power's smartphone customer satisfaction survey. 

Of course, there are some companies bucking the trends. The survey cited American Express, a company that successfully spends big to improve customer experience. Netflix, on the other hand, has recently come under fire, as some allege the company is emphasizing profits instead of customer experience following the announcement of its new DVD service, Qwikster.





customer experiencecustomer servicerankingsglobal trends

The benefits of a strong corporate culture are both intuitive and supported by social science. According to James L. Heskett, culture “can account for 20-30% of the differential in corporate performance when compared with ‘culturally unremarkable’ competitors.” 

But what makes a culture? Each culture is unique and myriad factors go into creating one, but we've observed at least six common components of great cultures. Isolating those elements can be the first step to building a differentiated culture and a lasting organization.

1. Vision: 

A great culture starts with a vision or mission statement. These simple turns of phrase guide a company’s values and provide it with purpose. That purpose, in turn, orients every decision employees make. When they are deeply authentic and prominently displayed, good vision statements can even help orient customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders. Nonprofits often excel at having compelling, simple vision statements. The Alzheimer’s Association, for example, is dedicated to “a world without Alzheimer’s.” And Oxfam envisions “a just world without poverty.” A vision statement is a simple but foundational element of culture.

2. Values: 

A company’s values are the core of its culture. While a vision articulates a company’s purpose, values offer a set of guidelines on the behaviors and mindsets needed to achieve that vision. McKinsey & Company, for example, has a clearly articulated set of values that are prominently communicated to all employees and involve the way that firm vows to serve clients, treat colleagues, and uphold professional standards. Google’s values might be best articulated by their famous phrase, “Don’t be evil.” But they are also enshrined in their “ten things we know to be true.” And while many companies find their values revolve around a few simple topics (employees, clients, professionalism, etc.), the originality of those values is less important than their authenticity.

3. Practices: 

Of course, values are of little importance unless they are enshrined in a company’s practices. If an organization professes, “people are our greatest asset,” it should also be ready to invest in people in visible ways. Wegman’s, for example, heralds values like “caring” and “respect,” promising prospects “a job [they’ll] love.” And it follows through in its company practices, ranked by Fortune as the fifth best company to work for. Similarly, if an organization values “flat” hierarchy, it must encourage more junior team members to dissent in discussions without fear or negative repercussions. And whatever an organization’s values, they must be reinforced in review criteria and promotion policies, and baked into the operating principles of daily life in the firm.

4. People:

No company can build a coherent culture without people who either share its core values or possess the willingness and ability to embrace those values. That’s why the greatest firms in the world also have some of the most stringent recruiting policies. According to Charles Ellis, as noted in a recent review of his book What it Takes: Seven Secrets of Success from the World’s Greatest Professional Firms, the best firms are “fanatical about recruiting new employees who are not just the most talented but also the best suited to a particular corporate culture.” Ellis highlights that those firms often have 8-20 people interview each candidate. And as an added benefit, Steven Hunt notes at that one study found applicants who were a cultural fit would accept a 7% lower salary, and departments with cultural alignment had 30% less turnover. People stick with cultures they like, and bringing on the right “culture carriers” reinforces the culture an organization already has.

5. Narrative: 

Marshall Ganz was once a key part of Caesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers movement and helped structure the organizing platform for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Now a professor at Harvard, one of Ganz’s core areas of research and teaching is the power of narrative. Any organization has a unique history — a unique story. And the ability to unearth that history and craft it into a narrative is a core element of culture creation. The elements of that narrative can be formal — like Coca-Cola, which dedicated an enormous resource to celebrating its heritage and even has a World of Coke museum in Atlanta — or informal, like those stories about how Steve Jobs’ early fascination with calligraphyshaped the aesthetically oriented culture at Apple. But they are more powerful when identified, shaped, and retold as a part of a firm’s ongoing culture.

6. Place: 

Why does Pixar have a huge open atrium engineering an environment where firm members run into each other throughout the day and interact in informal, unplanned ways? Why does Mayor Michael Bloomberg prefer his staff sit in a “bullpen” environment, rather than one of separate offices with soundproof doors? And why do tech firms cluster in Silicon Valley and financial firms cluster in London and New York? There are obviously numerous answers to each of these questions, but one clear answer is that place shapes culture. Open architecture is more conducive to certain office behaviors, like collaboration. Certain cities and countries have local cultures that may reinforce or contradict the culture a firm is trying to create. Place — whether geography, architecture, or aesthetic design — impacts the values and behaviors of people in a workplace.

There are other factors that influence culture. But these six components can provide a firm foundation for shaping a new organization’s culture. And identifying and understanding them more fully in an existing organization can be the first step to revitalizing or reshaping culture in a company looking for change.

source harvard business review

business strategycompany culturebusiness

Critical element in any strategy is its translation into reality

The only true measure of success is in its execution. And one of the key determinants of successful strategy implementation is organisational alignment.

Have you ever watched the rowing eights event? Now, think about the performance of the top teams – what do you see? you will see nine people (including the coxswain) working together in synchrony to achieve their primary goal of crossing the finish line first.

Successful rowing eights operate as a unit

To achieve success, the rowers must stroke at the same pace with the blades of every oar pulling at the same depth in the water. They all know the overall game plan for success and they are ready to respond to the orders of the coxswain (who’s job it is to quarterback the execution of the race strategy and communicate the adjustments that keep the boat on course in changing wind and water conditions) as individuals and as a cohesive unit.

Each member of the team knows what their job is during the race and that they can rely on their coaching, training, boat, and equipment, and the skills, technique, and commitment of their teammates while the race is on. When team alignment and cohesion is off, the boat strays off course, essentially wasting time, energy, and the resources that were invested in trying to achieve the goal of winning the race.

Without alignment, the best strategic plan will never be fully achieved

It’s very much the same for an organisation. Without alignment, the best strategic plan will never be fully achieved because organisational alignment is the glue that makes strategy execution excellence happen. An aligned organisation gets things done faster, with less effort, and with better results, and is more agile and responsive to changing business conditions. Ultimately, a high level of organisational alignment is essential for achieving increasingly better business performance results now and in the future! That’s why organisational alignment is so important for achieving better performance results.

How to cultivate organisational alignment?

1. Have a purpose beyond profit
2. Create a shared vision and a common direction
3. Visualise the journey
4. Envolve the whole organization
5. Do something together
6. Share numbers
7. Celebrate milestones
8. Measure early and often

Let's face it,  great corporate culture doesn't just happen, you need to make it happen!
source meliorate
The term “corporate culture” once brought to mind strict dress codes and cut-throat coworker competition, but  company culture is rapidly emerging as essential to building a brand, attracting customers, and winning the burgeoning war for talent.
Recognizing the growing role of company culture in attracting and retaining talent, company review and salary comparison site Glassdoor compiled this list of the Top 25 Companies For Culture And Values.


​The companies that fared the best in this evaluation are those with a clear mission statement and stated values that are congruent internally and externally. Employees frequently take note of how the company deals with users, clients, and external constituents, as well as how they behave “within the walls” of the company.

While the list is studded with familiar tech names like Google, Riverbed, and Citrix, a broad array of companies are represented, including grocers Wegmans and H-E-B, retailers Nike and REI, Southwest Airlines, and the Walt Disney Company.

The appeal of a positive company culture is so strong it’s become a kind of de facto compensation. Companies that once used hefty salary packages to attract the best and brightest no longer have the same resources as they may have pre-recession, so non-cash benefits like flexibility and clear company values have become a way to attract candidates.

View the complete list here 

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by Shobha Ponnappa

Brand strategy trends for 2015 are both easy and difficult to predict. Going by what we’ve seen through 2014, a lot of last year’s trends are hardening. But still, when experts aim to predict for the coming year, they are cautious. They know we’re dealing with two notoriously fickle factors: technology and the social media.  Three well-known brand strategy specialist authors of articles in, Huffington Post and SmartCompany, as well as the trend forecasts of the branding agency Landor weigh in on their predictions.

From’s article titled “11 Marketing Trends To Watch For In 2015” by Avi Dan:

Transparency will become the most important tool of marketing.

Consumers are going to continue to exert power and influence. The idea of radical transparency is something that few brands are taking advantage of now, and most brands fight it. Next year the best brands won’t be those with the best stories, or sort of made up fictional stories, but those that will give an accurate and real time picture of what they are doing in the interest of the consumer, at any given time.

CMOs will become Chief Simplifier Officers.

Most companies create complexity, especially even as the landscape itself is turning more complex. They’ve arranged themselves in endless new vertical silos, by geography, product, or function that hamper them when it comes to working more closely and with the free flow of ideas. To optimize consumer and customer engagements, CMOs will begin to put silo busting on top of their agenda and begin to think holistically about the company’s overall value proposition, integrating messages and insights across business units, geographies, and functional groups.

We will witness the emergence of the marketing technologists.

Too many companies think in terms of digital marketing. Instead, they should be thinking in terms of marketing in a digital world. The best marketer in a digital world would be the marketing technologists, people with heavy digital DNA and technology acumen. They will be integrated seamlessly with the marketing groups and will play an important role in how marketing strategies are developed and applied.

The winners will be adept at agility marketing.

Social media produced a different, more elusive consumer with short-term thinking. Marketers are now chasing their daily meanderings in “likes”, “shares”, “tweets”, click-through rates, and ever more immediate but pointless metrics. The best marketers will have ever more consumer data, capable of faster adaption, shorter lead times, and always-on, real-time marketing. Instead of the next month or next quarter the focal point for the winners becomes the next hour.

From the branding specialists Landor, and their article titled “Landor releases 2015 brand trends:

The individual, not the masses, becomes the brand target.

Thanks to epic advances in capturing consumer data and breakthrough manufacturing techniques that make smaller production runs more economical, businesses will create specialized offers and subbrands to meet consumers’ desires for personalized products. For example, Coca-Cola Israel recently printed 2 million individually designed labels to prove its consumers are one of a kind. And, Holiday Inn is starting to shift its brand strategy toward more customized experiences that meet individual needs—from business travelers and families to young couples and adventurous singles.

3-D goes beyond movies.

The advent of 3-D printing technology enables brands to forgo uniform packaging in favor of creating custom designs to connect with consumers and stand out on store shelves. Captain Morgan 1671 special-edition blend took this approach and exceeded sales expectations with a distinctive pirate-shaped and weathered glass jug.

The name game, short and simple.

With more noise in the digital marketplace and less time than ever to capture consumers’ attention, brands will continue to streamline the path to sales and that includes a shift back to basic, clear, relevant naming solutions. More monikers will have universal, easy-to-grasp concepts (think Uber and Square) that also make good URLs. Apple, who dropped its iconic “i” naming convention, and Google have already transitioned to this elementary approach, putting greatest importance on their recognizable master brands by placing them first, followed by simple product descriptors: Apple Watch, Apple TV, Apple Pay; Google Glass, Google Wallet, Google Play.

Brands as your best friends.

Good-bye slogans and catchphrases. Today you can’t sell without a story—and it better be authentic. Whether it’s websites, tweets, or texts, brands will use straightforward dialogue infused with honesty and emotion. We’re talking plain, straightforward honesty in communications — like Zipcar who has zoomed past the rental car competition with an approachable voice that speaks like your best bud.

From the Huffington Post’s “Advertising and Tech Trends for 2015” by Jeremy Wilson:

Rise of the Sensors.

You name it. Next year someone will put a sensor in it. They have been slowly making their way into communications and services over the last two years – initially driven via Android but accelerated by Apple adding it’s iBeacons to the game. We are starting to see an infrastructure rollout that will drive broader awareness and use via mobile. These beacons act as triggers that allow for smarter interaction with an environment – for instance, if I walk into a store a beacon will know who I am and what department I’m in, sending me a notification for an in store promotion based on my past shopping history. There are multiple major sports stadiums across the US currently installing networks of beacons so we can expect some cool executions, expect to see beacons used a lot in interactive OOH and sensors attached to athletes for live sports analytics.

Health Tech & Wearables Go Mainstream. 

Sure, everyone has had activity trackers for years – but with open platforms bringing all that data together and consumers starting to share it with their doctors – get ready for an explosion in this space. This data will be leveraged to consistently add real value in our lives. Smart watches will start to appear on wrists throughout the year, brands and apps will rush to shrink their content into what is being known as ‘glanceables’ – small snackable content formats that can be viewed on a watch or a Google Now card. My favorite quote on the Apple Watch is from Aza Raskin, Head of Innovation at Jawbone: “In a decade, only the affluent will be able to afford to be disconnected. The iWatch et al will start sexy and end as a shackle.” Look for the unplug movement to clash with the emergence of smartwatches.

Selfies Get Serious.

Next year it’s time to up your selfie game – 2015 is when the selfie really gets tech. Hyperlapse, Drone shots, and connected devices that can trigger the camera on your phone are becoming mainstream and offer whole range of new perspectives for us to present ourselves to the world. Can Google Glass stay in the game without a selfie strategy?

More Ambitious Native & Branded Content.

I have to give ‘Native’ the award for the most overused buzzword of this year. Look for many new Native ad formats to emerge as it continues its charge in 2015, but who will it go too far? Some people will start to call brands out on it as the lines between editorial content and advertising become too blurred. This year we have seen quality TV shows funded entirely by brands, my bet is that in 2015 we’ll see a brand fully fund a scripted feature film. There is already loads of product placement but I’m talking the primary production backer. Fueled by the ability to debut straight to streaming distribution and inspired by Netflix’s plans to debut their own movies directly on their platform, I can see some brands making a smart impact within film.

And finally, from the SmartCompany’s story by Jackie Crossman titled “Marketing trends that will rock 2015”:


David Chenu, general manager of marketing services at Horticulture Australia, believes the next year or two is not about technology change – although he says that will still occur, even faster than currently – but will be more about style, substance and the essence of what is communicated. “Consumers relish integrity and purity of communication,” Chenu says. “The integrity and honesty of brand communication will be the answer to resonate through continuing, confusing clutter.” Jono McCauley, director of creative strategy at Elevencom, is in total agreement.
“In 2015, brands that ‘sell’ less and ‘do’ more will be the ones that pull ahead of the pack,” McCauley says.
“Consumer-controlled media filters out the sellers and takes notice of the doers. Doers are always innovating and solving real consumer problems in fresh and interesting ways. If the doing is clever enough, it sells itself.”
McCauley warns marketers should never underestimate their customers. “Living this strategy involves being totally transparent and surprisingly honest.”

Consumer power.

The customer as an evolving, increasingly savvy and “highly empowered individual” is a theme reiterated by Gunjan Allen, marketing development manager at Airtrain. “Today’s consumer has access to a wealth of information from numerous channels and that makes them more connected, but also more fragmented,” Allen says. “A brand needs to connect in that consumer’s world to be taken notice of. Brands will be welcomed into their consumer’s life if they’re on the same page and share the same thoughts, needs and ideals.” Lynne Ziehlke, the market development manager at the Australian Macadamia Society, is also nuts about the customer. “It’s a case of back to the future with the customer at front and centre as the hero,” she says. “Social media has made everything so transparent that the best thing you can do is have a great product and credible narrative.”


Byrnes predicts a continued increase in the power of digital influencers. “Digital Influencers will become a more widely used and recognised resource for digital marketers. With influencers acting as an impetus to their audience, brands and marketers will learn to turn their efforts to specific individuals to connect with a new audience of potential buyers rather than their target market as a whole.”

Visual storytelling.

Looking ahead, Gunjan Allen believes visual storytelling will take the concept of ‘storytelling’ to a whole new level. “Technologies like Blippar will further enhance customer-brand interaction, creating videos and experiences to help achieve the cut-through that brands need,” she says.
“The clever marketers are also realising that media is now consumed on the go and the mobility of devices now allows brands to reach their consumers at the right time and at the right place – a trend that will continue to grow in 2015 and beyond".

original article via

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by David Meer, Edward C. Landry, and Samrat Sharma

A new approach can help CPG companies introduce products with the right features, price, and packaging. Consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies have a big problem: They have almost no idea which of their new products will end up being popular with consumers. Despite big data, despite a decade of heavy investment in innovation, despite chief innovation officers and efficient R&D, failure rates for new products have hovered at 60 percent for years. Two-thirds of new product concepts don’t even launch. One reason is that the retail environment has become far more complex. E-commerce continues to upend long-established business models, and consumers are shopping less at supermarkets and hypermarkets and more in convenience stores, at discounters, and online.

What’s more, although CPG companies are extremely good at the early stages of innovation—identifying promising areas of growth and creating new product ideas in those areas—and at the later stages of testing concepts and commercializing them, there’s a conspicuous hole in the middle of the process. They don’t have a clear grasp of which combinations of features, packaging, price, and even labeling will persuade consumers to make a purchase. They’re like triathletes who are world-class at swimming and running, but terrible at cycling.

There’s a way to fill that hole, but it won’t be easy.

Based on our experience, we think it will require progress in three key (and intertwined) areas. None of the three will work without the other two, and all will compel CPG executives to rethink aspects of their traditional business model.

First, companies need to adopt dynamic modeling to gauge various combinations of features. When companies test a product concept today, they’re limited by the relative primitiveness of the tools available to them, such as consumer concept testing and market structure analysis. Testing a preset combination of options (for example, the cinnamon-flavored cookies, in six-ounce individual packages, at 79 cents per pack) produces a basic thumbs-up or thumbs-down assessment as to whether the product will be financially viable. However, the results apply only to that combination. If you change one element, the test results become much less useful. Worse, the testing is expensive and time-consuming, with turnaround times that are measured in months, which makes testing every single combination impossible.

Ideally, companies should be able to test various combinations more dynamically, adjusting the flavor profile, pack size, price, labeling, distribution channel, and any other aspect of the value proposition—even the brand name. Developing a simulation model that can evaluate a wide range of scenarios by altering the various elements and seeing how each factor affects the outcome while the product is still in the development stage is an effective way of doing so.

How much more would consumers pay for low-calorie cinnamon cookies? Would they prefer eight-ounce packs? And should the cookies be sold at a convenience store, a big-box retailer, a warehouse store, or online (or all of the above)? The right model would break such product propositions into their component parts, reassemble them in novel ways, and estimate demand for the new combinations. This in turn would require detailed data on which features consumers value, how much they’re willing to pay for those features, and where they’re willing to make trade-offs.

In addition, simulation models need to deliver more actionable results. Rather than providing just a basic yes or no, the results must break down revenue, volume, and margin contribution. If a new product is going to take market share from another player, the model should let the company know where that share will be coming from, at what price, and through which channels. Importantly, the model should also indicate how much volume is incremental and how much is simply cannibalizing the company’s other offerings in the same category.

Although similar models are already being used in industries such as financial services and technology, CPG companies have been slow to embrace the new analytics. In fact, the reverse has happened: In response to cost pressures, CPG companies have systematically disinvested in analytics and insights teams. The limited resources CPG companies seem to have are being spent in areas such as social media and mobile marketing. But firms that are serious about innovation have to start the process by investing in foundational tools. And they will likely find that these investments pay for themselves over time.

If firms are serious about innovation, they have to start by investing in foundational tools.

Second, companies have to develop priorities based on their capabilities. Companies don’t start product development with a blank sheet of paper. They have critical advantages in areas where they focus their investments and attention; other areas can be either outsourced or set aside. Once a company has clear insights about which features consumers value, and how much they value those features, the next step is to figure out which of those insights it can actually implement, based on its capabilities and resources.

For example, some companies are good at developing new flavor profiles, and can easily launch spin-off products (adding toffee to the cinnamon cookies, for instance). Others are good at packaging innovations or cost reductions that lower prices. Still others have strong distribution capabilities, and can get products into new store formats quickly. Whatever its strengths, a company should prioritize its innovation ideas accordingly.

Concurrently, this step provides companies with valuable insight into which areas they should concentrate on developing next. Coming up with ideas that are hard to implement because of a lack of relevant capabilities should influence a firm’s future investment priorities, enabling it to build new capabilities that would ensure competitive advantage in the future.

Finally, companies need to make organizational shifts to put these insights into action. CPG companies need to reorient their org charts so that the innovation function collaborates more directly with marketing, sales, and the supply chain during product development. Many companies think that these four functions collaborate already. But the truth is that they work from different perspectives, with varying definitions of success and incentives, and at different stages in a product’s development. Innovation wants to get new products from the drawing board to market, while marketing is busy trying to get consumers to open their wallets. Sales focuses on persuading retailers to give new products shelf space, which in turn can help stimulate consumer demand. And the goal of the supply chain is to maximize efficiency and minimize process proliferation. The objectives overlap, but they’re not identical. As a result, products in development can travel far down the tracks before problems surface.

CPG companies would do better to use the insights they generate in the first step (through dynamic modeling) and the priorities they establish in the second (understanding their capabilities) to create a common set of facts and objectives that all four functions can agree on.

In some cases, this will mean restructuring lines of authority, incentives, and other aspects of the organization. A dramatic step? Yes. But it is necessary if companies are to make sure that these critical functions are working together.

Some leading CPG companies have started to implement this new approach to innovation. For example, one packaged-food company had spent 18 months working on a preservative-free version of a product. One of its competitors had already introduced a similar product, and the company feared market share losses. But with the official launch date only months away, the company learned that two major grocery chains had decided they would not carry its new product, in part because the competitor’s preservative-free version didn’t appeal to their customers. Firm leaders scrapped the product, treating their investments as a sunk cost.

To avoid repeating that mistake, the company shifted away from trying to innovate by following the competition, and toward an approach based on a richer understanding of consumers’ desires.

It started by running a dynamic analysis of several product options. It found that although “preservative-free” wasn’t a sufficiently attractive incentive for consumers to open their wallets, “natural” (meaning no artificial ingredients) would be. R&D had originally said the natural product would take two years to develop, but a deeper look at the company’s capabilities and priorities revealed that the team could actually complete the product’s development in just six months.

In fact, a discussion between the R&D team members and their counterparts in sales and marketing revealed that R&D had been receiving so many new product ideas that it used “two years” as the default timing for all of them. The company was able to identify other innovations with clear potential—including a superpremium line and new packaging—that could be brought to market quickly. In the aggregate, these innovations enabled the company to grow sales at a faster rate than the competition and to improve profitability in the category for the first time in three years.

If this example shows anything, it’s that CPG companies can’t afford to throw ideas at the wall and hope one of them will stick, even if they are trying to imitate a competitor. Chances are, your rivals don’t have any more insight into what consumers want than you do. This new approach should go a long way toward fixing that.

original article via strategy-business

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By Carole Ayoub, Brandcell

To be successful a brand needs to stand out from its competitors by promising relevant yet distinctly different benefits to its target market. It also needs to convey these benefits in everything from its brand name and identity to packaging and product performance.

By carefully selecting these benefits the brand not only sets itself apart as the preferred provider but also as the only viable solution for its customers’ needs.

In other words, consumers are convinced this brand alone delivers what they’re seeking and they won’t accept substitutes even if it is not available. It is through this differentiation strategy that the brand becomes, in the minds of consumers, unique.

Take a look at the retail landscape today, though, and you’ll find that more brands than ever before are vying for attention, and, the degree of differentiation between one product and another has been diminished. In such a cluttered marketplace, a brand needs to work even harder to stand out, and having a distinctive name becomes more important than ever to asserting a brand’s status as in a class of its own.

In Lebanon, where a recent scandal sent shockwaves through the population, a number of brands may have learned an additional lesson about the pitfalls of not having a distinctive name. When a list of food brands that had been found to have contravened health regulations was released by the Health Minister, the public reacted with horror as the realization dawned on them that the food they had been buying and consuming for years from trusted names had been contaminated or past its sell-by date.

This scandal also triggered some reactions from a cluster of similar brand names that had initially adopted what is known as the “me-too strategy”. It’s a strategy that can seem smart to start-ups or emerging companies, who adopt the rationale that customers may be easily duped into thinking they are buying the products of the larger, more successful brand; however, these newer brands lack the potential for progressive branding as no two brands can own the same concept in the consumer’s mind.

Contrary to popular thought, the imitator’s fate is sealed by the similar sound of their name, which casts them into a default position. While the promoters themselves may believe that their brand is a challenger to the market leader, the consumers merely perceive it as an imitator.


When these brands adopted the “me-too strategy”, their eyes were fixed on the quick wins and easy gains but overlooked the risks involved with tying their destiny to that of the established brand. Just like a marriage is for better or worse, so these imitator brands found themselves in the wake of the food scandal having to communicate and explain to their customers that despite the similar name their brand was in fact different to the other brands that stood accused. Yet, for all their proclamations of being safer and cleaner, consumers remained blurred and confused and this undoubtedly impacted their behavior and perception of those brands.

For these brands such a public debacle could or should provide a branding lesson and be the awakening point for the initiation of a proper rebranding and re-positioning exercise to gain back their customers’ confidence and differentiate in the right way while delivering on their values of honesty and transparency to demonstrate these are more than just words but rather a prime commitment never to be betrayed.
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Our world is evolving, thanks to technology, at a much faster pace ushering change to most industries. In keeping up with these transformations, a holistic approach has become indispensable, especially when dealing with constantly-shifting consumer needs. In addressing these, ArabAd asked Joe Ayoub, CEO of one of the region’s leading branding agencies, Brandcell, about its new strategy and future plans for the Middle Eastern market.

We noticed in your new website that Brandcell has evolved. Can you tell us more
about it?

The launch of our new website was timed to reflect our evolution to being a business design and innovation consultancy. Previously we were a strategic branding agency and while it is still part of what we do, as a business design consultancy we provide a more holistic approach that fits the needs of today’s businesses better. It is worth noting that while we were the first to bring true branding expertise to the Levant, we are also the first to bring business design to the region.

What are the major factors that pushed you to this evolution?

Today’s market is more dynamic, the rules and consumers are changing, and technology is making all of these changes happen extremely fast. So we need to adapt and provide our customers with new tools and techniques to solve the issues they face today and those of the future.

And what is business design exactly?

Business design is about applying design thinking with tested strategy tools to solve business issues. Simply put, products and services are developed around the users and their needs thereby delivering seamless and memorable experiences. The principal is based on a ‘human-centric’ approach. The business design scope can touch on any service or product offering, redesigning the sales process or pretty much anything that involves a business’s interaction with its customers. Whether it’s about your strategy, organisation, sales, brand or customer service, we can design, with our global partner Livework, very focused and customer centric solutions that have direct impact on your business. That’s Business Design.

What approach is used?

Too many organisations try to address complex, interrelated business and marketing challenges with traditional, isolated ‘solutions’ that merely tackle one issue at a time. This approach neither takes into account the impact across the organisation nor does it offer any insight related to customers’ perception.

We see that measurable business solutions need to work across every part of your organisationto serve your customers and help you build a better business.

The approach is comprised of four steps. The first is understanding and discovering the consumers as human beings in their own context and engaging them to understand how and why they behave this way. The second is imagining how to improve via different scenarios the way they use or consume a service or product. The third is designing and testing a new service journey model and the fourth is implementing it. It’s actually a very scientific and collaborative approach through which we co-create with and for our clients the solutions that suit them best.

Do you think the market in this part of the world is ready for business design?

We believe it is. We have moved very fast from being in an industrial age to a product-based age then to a service age and now to an experience age. Everywhere you go you hear these buzzwords. Apple was the first to realise this and create a seamless experience between the product and every aspect of the consumer interaction with the brand. Now people don’t only want a product or service which is transactional. They want a full experience to delight them and magnify the value of what they’re paying. Let’s not forget that 80 percent of our economy here and in the region is service driven yet service has traditionally been neglected.

Tell us more about your partnership with Live Work.

In order to understand, learn and bring this discipline of business design to a more professional level to the market we looked for the experts in this field. We selected Livework as our partners based on our chemistry and synergies, and the fact that they were the pioneers in commercial service design. They were the first to take this field from an academic to a commercial level. Coupled with their down to earth approach and wide global experience, we could not help but love that about them. They’ve worked with very large, high profile clients including companies such as Orange, Barclays and Transport London. Through this partnership we are bringing knowledge, expertise and best practices to the region and to our clients.

Do you touch on communication?

Actually we are excellent purveyors of content or news-worthy material for our clients’ communication. Once we design a new solution that makes a difference and gives clients a market edge or internally a new way of operating, they in turn would need to communicate these innovations and therefore the ad agency will get more business to work on that is more focused and exciting. So to answer you, yes we touch on it from an all-inclusive angle but we don’t communicate it ourselves as this is the agency’s role.

What are your plans moving forward?

We are now reinforcing our presence in Beirut and in the process of establishing a presence in Dubai to service the GCC. We are currently exploring various forms of establishments there that should hopefully be finalised within the coming couple of months.

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