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Author Archive

The rich get richer and poor get poorer. What, if anything, are we going to do about it?

Posted on September 28, 2014 by 2 Comments

With each passing day, it seems as if the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and while our economy expands, the divide between rich and poor gets wider and wider. Sound like an exaggeration? Perhaps not. Read Neil Irwin’s article in this past weekend’s NY Times, “The Benefits of Economic Expansions Are Increasingly Going to the Richest Americans”. Irwin cites data compiled by Pavlina R. Tcherneva, an economist at Bard College to prove this disturbing trend, although none of this should be a surprise.

Two charts in the article tell the story well. The first (below) shows the share of income growth received by the top 10 percent and bottom 90 percent of earners during periods of economic expansion.

InequalityI grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, began my work career in the 1970’s and reached a modicum of business success in the 1980’s and 1990’s. My father was a doctor. We went on family vacations when I was little. I went to good schools and ultimately raised a family and owned my own business. I wanted for nothing. Life was and still is good. As a child and teen growing up in inner city Detroit, it always seemed like the auto factories were humming, the shops were full and growth in prosperity, while not perfect, was being shared.

According to I.R.S. data, I’ve been among the 10% who’ve benefited from expansions for many years. Yet, it doesn’t take much other than a look at the daily papers or a walk around any American city to see that something doesn’t seem quite right. Shoppers seem well-heeled, coiffed and comfortable among my top tier peers. But why, I wonder, when I walk into Home Depot, Walmart or the local supermarket, I rarely see exuberant shoppers from lower and middle classes? You may think it’s the stores I shop in only cater to my types but I travel and like to walk around and check in on the retail scene to get a flavor of the local zeitgeist.

The second chart from the article (below) shows the share of income gains during expansionary periods that went to the top 1 percent versus bottom 99 percent. The trend in wealth gains becomes even more striking.

IncomeGains Before I saw these charts. I always thought things seemed to change for the worse in the 1980’s. That was when the idea of “trickle down economics” came into vogue and was put into practice. The idea was that if we cut taxes for the well-off, the additional amount they gain will “trickle down” to the middle and lower classes. But I always wondered how that could be. After all, I could only buy one car every few years, one boat, one house, etc., nothing like what hundreds, thousands or millions of people making less than me could do if they had the money. So how could the benefits that I and my fellow 10 percenters (alas, I’ve never made it into the top 1%) really make a difference in the prosperity of all. The answer as we can see from the data is that they couldn’t and haven’t.

Political forces on the right are quick to criticize programs that provide targeted job training, assistance to inner city residents and businesses, raising the minimum wage or any program that puts more money toward raising the lower class and taking away from the wealthy. Their answer is always to just lower taxes as the benefits will trick down for all. It’s been nearly 35 years since we’ve been practicing “trickle down” and we haven’t seen it trickle anywhere yet except to the top. In case you’ve forgotten Einstein’s oft quoted definition of insanity, it seems to fit here: “Insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.”

 Our Congress can’t seem to do anything constructive to pass sensible solutions and our President can’t persuade them to because one party thinks it’s its job is to undermine his term. And we go to the polls and re-elect the same clowns who can’t interpret the data, read the charts or come up with any compromise that might try something different to help. In 1811, a smart guy named Joseph de Maistre, wrote “Every country has the government it deserves.” We often think that quote was intended for our “exceptional” America. It was actually directed toward Russia, a country, then and now, of rich oligarchs separated from the lower classes by their profligate wealth. Sound familiar?

 

 

 

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Best Practices in Customer Engagement

Posted on July 21, 2014 by Leave a comment

In my previous blog post, I invited readers to take a survey about customer engagement.  More than 200 people have taken the survey and you still can.  Simply click the link:  http://surveydirectlink.com/survey/?name=engagement.

We’ve received some very thoughtful comments from people defining what customer engagement is, how companies do it wrong and best practices for doing it right.  In a few weeks, we’ll close the survey and then publish a summary so that you can read what people wrote.  If you take the survey, you’ll automatically receive the executive report.  But even if you don’t take it and you watched Karen Trudell’s Abundance of Gratitude interview series, you can receive the report.

If you’d like to register for Karen’s interview series, go to http://www.sweetperfection.org/abundance-of-gratitude

Again, if you’d like to take the customer engagement survey while it’s still open, go to this link:  http://surveydirectlink.com/survey/?name=engagement.

(BTW, if you’re using an older version of MS Explorer, you may have some issues with the survey working properly but if you simply take it on Chrome, Firefox or Safari, you’ll breeze through it.  It’s very short.)

To receive an executive summary of the survey results, just enter your email address here:

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Share your comments on customer engagement

Posted on June 26, 2014 by Leave a comment

“Engagement” has become a buzzword in business these days.  Everyone is asking whether they are “engaged” with their customers.  But what does “engagement” mean both to people who are in business and to their customers? Do you think you are “engaged” with the companies you buy from?  (e.g. Anybody out there in love with their bank?)  How do they think they are engaging you to build brand loyalty?

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 3.00.36 PMWe’ve posted a short survey online and if you’d like to take it, you can simply click on the image to the left or click this link:  http://surveydirectlink.com/survey/?name=engagement.  There are only five substantive questions and you can write as much or as little as you’d like.  So far, we’ve received more than 100 responses and the subject seems to have touched a hot button with many.  If you like the survey, please send it on to others that you think have something to say about this topic.  When we close the survey, we’ll post a summary of what people have said and the best practices they recommend.  I hope it will become a good tool to use in developing customer engagement, however you define it, and  brand loyalty for your business

P.S.  If you’ve worked with different programs or programmers, you know that MS Explorer often presents some challenges from the other three major browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari).  Explorer uses a different programming protocol and we’ve found that some survey respondents are having no problem with it and others are.  If the survey doesn’t work for you on Explorer, please give it a try on one of the other browsers.

 

 

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The way slogans should be

Posted on May 15, 2014 by 1 Comment

WayLifeThere’s a great article today by Gail Collins in the NY Times (My State’s Prettier Than Yours) in which she tries to understand the promotional slogans of our 50 states.  Give up Gail.  It’s incomprehensible.  State and country slogans have always been a pet peeve of mine because they usually don’t relate to anything distinct or different about the state.  Collins gives plenty of examples.  They’re usually a result of the excesses of bad advertising agencies or over zealous economic development and tourism teams.

There’s a list of state slogans at Wikipedia (List of U.S. state slogans) and 105 country tourism slogans at a blog called Tourist vs. Traveller (105 tourism slogans from around the world) along with a nice little video to show them all with their logos (which a lot of tourism development folks think is a brand, but that’s another topic entirely).  Collins covers the states pretty well so I’ll focus on some of my favorite country slogans.

Did you know Albania is “A new Mediterranean love”?  And all this time, I thought it was a mysterious country that supplies pizza parlor chefs to New York restaurants.  Austria is “Arrive and revive”.  I’m sorry. I don’t know what that means, particularly since I’ll have jet lag for a day or two once I arrive.  Here’s one I like:  Belarus is “Hospitality beyond borders.”  Does that mean I have to leave the country for hospitality?  One of my favorites is Romania because I’ve been there twice:  “Explore the Carpathian garden.”  Now, I never saw the Carpathians on either of my trips (hint:  it’s a mountain range), but I suspect that slogan will mean a lot to the winner of any national geography bee.

You have to read the list yourself.  It’s full of surprises.  (Actually, I think that’s Connecticut’s slogan.)  You can travel from Pure Russia to 100% Pure New Zealand in a few lines.  (Maybe Russia only got to 90% so they didn’t want to tell us how pure they are.)  “Bolivia awaits you”, which is nice to know since I probably won’t make it there for a few years.  The “Dominican Republic has it all” so don’t confuse that with “Honduras, todo esta aqui.”  They have it all too but only in Spanish.  I also like “Paraguay, You have to feel it!”.  I’ve been there too and I suppose they’re talking about their vicious mosquitoes.

Τhe amazing thing about all of these slogans for states and countries (cities have them too; don’t get me started) is that they say absolutely nothing about the country, its culture and what makes it distinct and different.  Years ago, states had mottos or nicknames that said something about them and often appeared on auto license plates.  Alabama was “The Cotton State”, Florida was “The Everglade State”; Georgia – “The Peach State”; Hawaii – “The Aloha State”; Michigan – “Winter Water Wonderland” and so on.  Washington D.C. was “Nation’s Capital”, which tells me a lot and that no other state can say.  Now, it’s become “The American Experience”, which is ironic since it’s never been a place that Sarah Palin went looking for her “real Americans”.  As a child, I always loved the slogans on license plates and could recite a lot of them.  They told me something different about each state and I wanted to visit them all.  Now they all blend into a meaningless hodgepodge that I bet nobody but each state’s tourism employees can recite.  It’s bad for the state or country, self-aggrandizing and simply poor communication.

I used to live in Maine and often drive there for long weekends.  We have a house there and a car with Maine plates that says “Vacationland”.  I like that, although I also like that it’s been called “The Pine Tree State.”  Sure, there are pine trees in other states but drive into Maine and you’ll think there must be more of them there than anyplace else and it does give you a picture.  For many years, they had a slogan on a sign when you enter the state, “The way life should be.”  Yes, it’s another one of those silly slogans but I have to admit that as someone who lived there for 25 years, seeing that sign always made me feel like I was home.  It meant a way of life to me and I hoped for others visiting for the first time.

40937319A few years ago, they added another sign about a 100 feet further down the road that read, “Worth a visit, worth a lifetime”, which signaled to me that they hired a new ad agency that wanted to establish its own brand of creativity.  Then, a year or so ago, they plastered “Open for business” underneath “The way life should be.”  I suppose it’s nice that the state is trying but did anyone check to see that Forbes put Maine last in its best for business rankings?

OpenForBizAt its core, this is all about determining what a state or country’s marketing strategy is because slogans, if they have any purpose at all, should tell us why that place is worth our patronage for business, tourism or simply, aspirations. Anyone who pays attention to strategy knows that it must tell us why the product is both distinct and different from any other, and if that strategy is not true to what’s being delivered, it is totally meaningless.  Slogans, however, have become a tactic conjured up by advertising or public relations agencies without a thought to strategy and that’s why they are incomprehensible and instantly forgettable.

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The challenges of Christmas

Posted on December 20, 2013 by 2 Comments

Everybody knows Christmas can be a challenging time.  Gifts, parties, family, travel, decorations, cards all can present vexing problems to solve every year.  For me, an appropriate card is probably the toughest thing I face.  Every year, my friend George and I develop a cartoon to use as our card and it’s not easy.

You see on the side, we’re cartoonists or I should say a cartoon team.  George draws and I write except when he draws and write or I change his drawings with photoshop and write or he draws and his wife writes or my wife and kids make suggestions.  But however it’s done, we come up with a collaborative effort every year that goes on our website GigundoIndustries.com

No doubt you’ve heard of Gigundo Industries, the largest, non-existent, virtual company in the world.  If not, you better visit the website as soon as possible for there are hundreds of cartoons there for you to peruse and even buy.

In a way, creating cartoons is similar to writing strategy.  You take a complex set of facts and distill them down into something simple that cuts through the clutter.  Only with cartoons, you place that simple statement in an unusual setting such as a psychiatrist’s office, caveman times, a prison, the North Pole or Santa’s workshop.

There was so much news this year that was fodder for our a year-end card.  Off course, most prominent and recent in our minds was the malfunctioning of healthcare.gov and that led to an idea that really didn’t require any drawing at all.

ChristmasGov

But we quickly nixed that idea because who could possibly make jokes about their government failing at something, let alone Santa?  I mean nobody wants the government to fail. Right? Yeah, right.

So then we moved on to the saga and embarrassment of Edward Snowden and the NSA snooping and came up with this:

Snow_Done

But not exactly an uplifting story and we were looking for something more upbeat.  So we moved on to a couple of positive stories.  First, the extraordinary first-ever resignation of a Pope got us wondering if that could ever happen to Santa.

Dual Santas

Then came the idea that the battle for gay marriage might even have reached the North Pole.  (No, this is not for you people at Fox News who think gay marriage may as well allow us to marry a goat.  Who’d marry a goat anyway?)

Bucks

We just weren’t satisfied yet and then read the news that “Selfie” was the word of the year and would enter the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary.  Santa can get in on that too.

Selfie

Finally, we hit upon it, an idea that would really take us into the future but have that bit of mixed message that might cause us to wonder whether things are as they should be.  2013 also became the year of the drone, for both reasons that frighten us and, thanks to Amazon.com, frighten us.  Just think if Santa employed some new technology.

Amazon

That’s our holiday collection for 2013.  They’ll all go up on our site at GigundoIndustries.com soon.  Let me know which you like best.  Now, it’s back to my day job.  Everyone at Futureshift and GigundoIndustries.com wishes you the best of Christmas holidays and a great 2014.

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Strategy? Why do we need that?

Posted on November 21, 2013 by 10 Comments

I went to a wine event today in New York for the Bordeaux wine region.  While there, I asked the representative of one of the wineries, “What’s your strategy for the U.S.?”  She responded, “Strategy?  Why do we need that?”  I gave her some reasons but the conversation didn’t go very far.

When I returned to my office, I got an email from the Pew Research Center titled “Experts rank the top 10 global trends.”  When I clicked on the link, I found a report from the World Economic Forum on the 10 most important global trends based on a poll of 1,592 leaders from academia, business, government and non-profits.  Here’s the list:

  1. Rising societal tensions in the Middle East and North Africa
  2. Widening income disparities
  3. Persistent structural unemployment
  4. Intensifying cyber threats
  5. Inaction on climate change
  6. Diminishing confidence in economic policies
  7. A lack of values in leadership
  8. The expanding middle class in Asia
  9. The growing importance of megacities
  10. The rapid spread of misinformation

So what do these trends have to do with something as everyday as buying a bottle of wine?  Plenty.

It’s great that a provider of any product or service believes theirs is the best but neither consumers nor b2b markets think in linear terms.  Every decision is made in relation to another.  If I’m nervous about the state of the world, that will effect how I make decisions, and what and when I buy.  If I’m an importer or distributor and concerned about unemployment and the impact of economic policies, I may want to hedge my bets with tighter inventory control.  As people focus on the macro trends that affect us all, how companies approach the environment, social responsibility and their own governance (ESG) effects our perceptions of their brands.  It goes on and on whether you’re a consumer or corporation (remember, somebody once said, “Corporations are people, my friend.”)

If you don’t have a strategy that helps you wind your way through this maze or a brand with values that reassure consumers and customers, you’re dead in the water and it won’t matter how many fancy events, e-newsletters or facebook followers you have.

5year copy copySomething else was interesting to me at today’s Bordeaux event.  As I went around and asked people about their wines and what makes their winery better than the rest (to which there were a lot of blank stares), nobody asked any questions about me, about my tastes, concerns, or needs.  They may as well have been Enomatic wine dispensers with an information rack underneath.  Most handed me a sheet of paper about their wines in answer to my questions anyway.

There was neither strategy present nor any attempt at customer engagement.  I imagine the woman who asked me why her company needs strategy poured a lot of wine today.  At the same time, it wouldn’t surprise me if at the end of the day, she moaned about some of the trends on the list and how they were making life more complicated.  That’s too bad.  Strategy is the direction that helps us wind our way through and around those trends and we all give our loyalty to those that help us do that.

FutureShift asks a lot of questions and listens carefully so that brands and strategy resonate with customers to increase their engagement and loyalty.  It works.

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Where does good strategy begin?

Posted on November 11, 2013 by 1 Comment

There’s always a rush these days to get plans into action.  Action is what we value, just as we’re always looking for someone who “can hit the ground running”.  But what if they’re running in the wrong direction?  And how do you know in which direction to run?

The answer to that mistakenly comes in businesses doing what they’ve always been doing and whenever possible just running faster.  In the accelerated competitive environment of New York City, we’ve become accustomed to stores, restaurants, professional services and even hospitals suddenly disappearing.  These businesses failed even though they worked harder and ran faster than anyone around them.  Why did they fail?

Most likely, they never asked their customers whether the direction they were going, the products and services they were offering or the benefits they perceived internally met customer needs.  It’s the rare manager or entrepreneur who can intuit what the market is looking for.  Otherwise, there would be a lot more people like Steve Jobs around.  Businesses have to get feedback from their customers and understand how to match their offerings with what customers are seeking.

Not surprisingly, customers often see product plusses and minuses in completely different terms than the companies selling them.  The best advertising campaign in the world won’t convince customers that they should be seeking something different.  We’re just not in that linear world of the 1950s and 60s when we could be told what detergents make our clothing cleaner and then march in lockstep to the store to buy them.

Of course, businesses don’t always listen to their customers because internal beliefs are so strong as to refuse to change their strategy to meet customer needs.  Here are three examples to consider:

  1. Several years ago, we were asked by the Chilean Pisco industry to provide a strategy that would open up the U.S. market for them.  If you don’t know Pisco, it’s an eau de vie, somewhat like a refined grappa, that’s made in Chile and Peru.  Our research found that bartenders believed it made most vodka-based cocktails more interesting and one of our key strategic recommendations (futureshiftpisco.com) was to unleash the creativity of bartenders with a series of tactical programs that would challenge them to develop great Pisco-based cocktails that their customers would love. But Chile is a country where perfection in planning is highly valued and established.  That works when building bridges, tunnels and skyscrapers, of which you’ll see many in Santiago these days but not when variable decisions are involved as with bartenders and their customers.  The Chilean Pisco industry decided to design several “perfect cocktails” that they could then promote in the U.S.  The result?  Peruvian producers who gained a better understanding of the U.S. bartender now dominate the market.  There’s still time for Chile to adapt as Pisco still is not well known in the U.S.   They simply have to acknowledge that their customers have more power than they do.  Easy, right? Ad campaign #1
  2. While we’re on Chile, let’s move to technology.  This time the Chilean technology industry told us they wanted to sell their growing tech industry to U.S. companies.  Chile had already achieved tremendous success in establishing itself as a successful place to locate an offshore tech center.  Now, they wanted to have a presence inside the U.S. to provide SaaS and enterprise integration products. Again, we spoke to prospective customers for these talented Chilean companies and were told that if they could establish partnerships with Chilean companies in Latin America, a piece of their U.S. business would likely follow.  (FutureshiftChileIT.com)In other words, help us in your territory and then we’ll reward you in ours.  U.S. companies wanted to understand the Chilean miracle and how it had become an export powerhouse. But just as with Pisco, the forces that worked internally in Chile were too strong to persuade them to adopt a market-oriented strategy in the U.S.  Six Chilean IT companies came to the U.S. trying to sell their services based on low prices.  But why go to a company thousands of miles just for low prices when that can be found down the road?  Today, there is only a small amount of programming work going to Chilean companies, as talented as they are. Ad campaign #2
  3. Most recently, we conducted a research and strategy project for the Maine lobster industry.  Following 200+ interviews, there were a number of findings in that report that showed how Maine lobster possesses attributes to restaurant and hotel chefs that were not being considered within the industry.  There is ample opportunity for the Maine industry to differentiate its brand from all competitors.  However, lobstering is a traditional industry and change does not come easily.  Like the two Chilean examples, internal beliefs in Maine are strong.  Most lobstermen are focused on their first transaction with a dealer when they bring their catch to the dock.  The needs of restaurant and hotel chefs can be perceived as a distant concept and there is little patience for the time it takes to raise the foodservice market’s demand.  The local dealer and summer tourist who loves to sit at the water’s edge, even though they both pay rock bottom price, is more concrete.  It’s been that way for more than a hundred years so change, despite market feedback, isn’t easy.  There’s cause to remain optimistic but it remains to be seen whether Maine’s lobster industry adapts.

In each of the above cases, the right strategy began with listening to customers.  That helped set a direction for the industry to go.  But at that point, industry members often put up obstacles to change.  After all, it’s far more difficult to do something new than the things you’ve been doing for dozens of years, even though they may not be working.

FutureShift develops brands and rebranding programs by understanding how customer decisions can increase engagement and loyalty.

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Objectives, strategy, tactics and goals: A recipe for confusion

Posted on July 23, 2013 by 9 Comments

Business managers and their consultants often talk about strategy, yet they frequently misunderstand what strategy is, why it’s important, and how objectives, strategy, tactics and goals are related. The confusion seems to exist because our business culture values action.  “I’m looking for someone who hits the ground running,” is a common refrain from CEOs who believe action is what creates results.  But the real question is “what direction are they running?”  Action without direction is meaningless or even harmful to the potential success of a business.

It’s simple enough to say that “objectives are measurable, strategy is direction, and tactics are actions.”  Yet, the question still asked is: “How many strategies should we have?”  Of course, if strategy is direction, how many directions can you go at the same time?  No wonder we’ve become accustomed to business plans underperforming. Marketing departments and their agencies often don’t know what direction they’re going or they create separate strategies for each tactical execution. Consequently, tactical programs may have no clear direction or consistent messaging and the result is that they get lost in the competitive clutter.

Building a business is like crossing the ocean

A clear example of an objective, strategic options, and tactics may help clarify the confusion. Suppose, for example, we decide to sail a boat across the Atlantic Ocean. This isn’t something most of us will ever do but objectives, strategy, tactics, and goals as well as research, even management teams, become crystal clear when setting out to cross the ocean and they’re no different than they are in business.

For fantasy purposes, we can become part of the idle rich and plan to sail our boat from the Chesapeake Bay area to the mouth of the Mediterranean in late June.  Why not?  The Mediterranean is a nice place to spend the summer.  Since we’re in a hurry to get there in time for party season, we’ll set an objective of reaching the Mediterranean in 20 days.  So now, we’ve set an objective and it’s measurable.  We can break it down further to measure our progress along the way.  It’s about 3,800 miles in a straight line across, which means we’ll have to average about 190 miles every 24 hours.  That will require an average speed of 7 nautical knots per hour (a little more than 8 miles per hour).  That may sound slow but we’re dependent on the vagaries of the wind and weather conditions as we sail across.  More importantly, we now have a set of metrics by which we can measure our progress, a key component of objectives.

To take our fantasy voyage further, we’ll need a boat and considering our objective, we might want one that’s about 60 feet long, something like the one in the photo.  This boat is called a Swan 60 and is made by Nautor in Finland.  Nautor makes safe, fast and beautiful boats and we’ll pay a pretty penny for the privilege of owning one.  Fully equipped, we’re looking at around $3.5 million but hey, it’s only money!  The good news is that the Swan 60 has what’s called a hull speed of about 10 knots (approx. 11.5 mph).  Without going into a technical definition, hull speed is the approximate maximum speed a boat can go.  The exception to hull speed is when a boat surfs in high winds on top of the waves.  If we can get our Swan 60 surfing, we can probably sail at speeds well over 15 knots.  So averaging 7 knots across a 3,800 mile span of ocean does not seem out of the question.

Now we have our boat and you can think of it the same way as we might a business.  It has an owner (a wealthy one) who may or may not be “skipper” (no jokes please) or managing director.  We’ll need a navigator, who can be compared to a combination of a Chief Technical Officer and Chief Strategy Officer, and a Tactician, our Chief Operating Officer to keep us going at maximum speed.  Then we’ll need some specialists, people who excel in working in different areas of the boat and handling a 60-foot yacht’s large sails.  Also, we’ll need an experienced sailboat cook who knows how to keep a crew happy while being tossed around in large waves.  We’ll want experience all around as ocean sailing is not for novices.  In all, our team may total 14 people.  Our boat only sleeps seven but we’re sailing non-stop 24/7 so we’ll need enough people to manage the boat while others sleep.

Selecting a strategy

You can see by now that we’re building a small company that has an ambitious objective.  Now, it’s time to select a strategy, a direction we’ll take to reach the Mediterranean on time.  We have some difficult choices to make.  It’s time to do some research.

We’ll study historical weather patterns, learn the prevailing winds, ocean currents, note the islands or hazards we might see along the way and course taken by other boats making the same crossing.  We learn that there are three optional courses across, each with its strengths and weaknesses.  We can devise a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) for each of them.  The map below shows our choices.

  • Course 1:  High-risk; High-reward

This is a strategy that has some clear risks but also enticing opportunities.  It takes us northeast along the U.S. and Canadian coastlines.  As the prevailing summer winds are out of the southwest, we’ll be sailing downwind, which should give us more speed.  We’ll also be assisted by the Gulfstream currents, which run along a path from the Bahamas northeast into the Atlantic at an average rate of 3 knots.  Then, if weather patterns hold, we should have good winds reaching down the European coast to get to our destination.  The risk is that we’ve added about 1,000 miles to our course, which means we need to average 9 knots, which is pretty aggressive.  Another risk, more precisely, a threat, is the possibility of sailing among drifting icebergs, once we’re off the Labrador coast.  Our research has told us that iceberg fields breaking off from the Greenland glaciers are common during the summer months.  That’s not a problem for us during good weather but it’s difficult to see an iceberg at night (memories of the Titanic).  So in the end, we have a potentially fast crossing to meet or exceed our objective but with some significant risks.

  • Course 2:  Shortest Distance

This is a strategy that takes the shortest possible course using the curvature of the earth to shorten our path. It still has the potential risk of icebergs but it is more manageable if this becomes a problem.  We’ll gain less of a push from the Gulfstream and may find ourselves stuck with low or no wind for days in a mid-Atlantic high-pressure system, but it seems to strike a middle ground that still makes our objective within reach.

  • Course 3:  Nice & Easy

This strategy is the most conservative.  It enables us to stop along the way in both Bermuda and the Azores, enabling us to replenish our supplies 700 miles east of the U.S. and about 1,000 miles west of the Mediterranean, with a gap of about 2,000 miles in between.  This course reduces the risk of being exposed to extreme weather along the way and allows us to spend a night or two in safe harbors along the way.  The risk is that high-pressure centers regularly sit in the middle of the ocean in late June and we could have to drift windless or move at low speeds for days.  This may make it difficult to reach our objective on time.  (BTW, this course appears shorter when viewed as flat surface but is longer when going around the diameter of a sphere.)

Our three strategies are not too different from what we may see in business, one that is high-risk, high-reward, one that is safe but potentially slow and one that is a middle ground or compromise between the two.  Which should we choose and what happens if we recognize that we’ve made a mistake?

Suppose we’re aggressive and have tremendous confidence in our abilities to manage the boat and navigate the seas. Past success might even blind us to some of our weaknesses.  When hubris takes over decision-making can be reckless (memories again of the Titanic…or hundreds of failed businesses).  Let’s assume we select the high-risk course that takes us far north but in doing so, we either find the hazards of icebergs to be too many, the seas to be too rough or even the winds to be less than we anticipated.  As a result, we decide to change strategies and move mid-course to another direction.  One look at the “course change” on the map shows the cost of making this correction, which is likely to make our objective much more difficult to reach.  The lesson, of course, is that selecting the wrong strategy and making a change has costs, which can be significant.

Tactics and goals

What about tactics and goals?  How do they factor in and how should we think of them.  During any period of time, we’re going to take specific actions to increase the speed of our boat.  We might put up different sails, larger or smaller, to better take advantage of changing winds. Or, we might want to be on a slightly more advantageous course to gain speed.  These are tactics but are not strategy, as they don’t alter our overall direction in reaching our objective.

Imagine a boat (or a business or someone who hits the ground running) that is all tactics but has no strategy.  It would always take every possible action to increase its speed regardless of the direction it is heading.  It might even go in circles and get nowhere very fast.  Tactics will not reach a productive objective without strategy to provide guidance.

Finally, where do goals fit in?  Goals are long-term milestones that you want to achieve.  (e.g. “I want to be a better sailor/manager/person.”).  Objectives are fixed and have specific requirements, which can be measured.  Objectives have structure; goals do not.  Goals can never be accomplished without objectives but objectives without goals won’t create the long-term change you desire.

Hopefully, that clarifies things.  Following college, I crewed on a large sailboat crossing the Atlantic.  Our owner chose “Course 3: Nice & Easy” and we paid a price for it.  It was slow, slow, slow – 27 days across.  But one of my strongest memories of that trip was listening to our marine radio and hearing reports of sailboats dodging icebergs in high winds only a thousand miles to our north.  It was an example of how the wrong strategy can have its costs, either going too slow or too fast, but it cemented the concepts in my mind forever.

At FutureShift, we provide research-based strategic services, but are often asked to run workshops that help clarify the confusion around objectives, strategy, tactics and goals.

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The problems with Big Data and how DirectLink™ solves them

Posted on April 17, 2013 by Leave a comment

FutureShift is a data-driven strategic and brand planning company, which uses its proprietary software to develop databases and customer feedback that enables direct communication to any user defined segment.  

If you’re like most people in business today, you’re probably talking about “Big Data” and what it can do for you.  One can hardly scan the business section of any newspaper or magazine without reading about it.

On April 15th NY Times, columnist David Brooks wrote an excellent article about the limits of Big Data.  It’s titled, “What You’ll Do Next”. It was of interest to me because we offer large-scale, qualitative customer intelligence to our clients with the ability to instantaneously email people who share a distinct set of differences.

Let me explain because it’s really quite simple.

The purpose of research or recording data (quantitative or qualitative) is not to tell you what people have in common but what drives them apart.  If in your marketing, you find the common denominator between all your customers and then deliver them a message that addresses that commonality, you’re actually speaking to no one.  You haven’t addressed any particular interest that anybody has that might indicate that you understand their specific needs.

This is why we use (or build) your database to tell you how your customers are different from each other and how they want that difference to be addressed.  As Brooks points out, “People are discontinuous…the passing of time can produce gigantic and unpredictable changes in taste and behavior, changes that are poorly anticipated by looking at patterns of data on what just happened.” Nothing could be truer in marketing today.

One of the problems with Big Data is that it is essentially a rear-view mirror. It looks for past patterns of preferences based on purchases or contacts and assumes their patterns will tell you how they will act in the future.  Brooks quotes the Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier book, “Big Data,” noting “this movement asks us to move from causation to correlation.” But he writes, “Correlations are actually not all that clear.  A zillion things can correlate with each other depending on how you structure the data and what you compare.”

We’ve all probably experienced this when buying products ranging from books to vacuum cleaners from Amazon.  You’ve surely seen, their notations that people who bought these books, also bought these.  What they’re doing is simply taking your history of book buying, comparing it to others with similar lists and laying what those people bought next onto your page.  In other words, past history from people like you equals future purchase probability and with enough purchase data, there may be some accuracy in that prediction.  However, Amazon can’t know that last week I had no interest in buying books about terrorism and this week, sadly due to the events in Boston, I do.  Until I make my purchase, but then all kinds of things can intercede with my buying decision.  There are just too many potential disruptions to patterns of purchases to be good predictor of future behavior.

We’ve created a forward-looking mirror called DirectLink™ We ask your customers “what if” and “why” questions.  We capture their words and then quantify their ideas, perceptions and motivations.  Then, we give you the ability to instantly segment them and download the email addresses of any segment you select.

With DirectLink™, you can immediately see what differentiates your customers, the words they use to describe their differences and their emails so you can you respond specifically to their unmet needs.  Most purchases are motivated by either frustrations or the need to fulfill unmet needs.  Big Data doesn’t engage customers to determine their frustrations or needs.  DirectLink™ does. In doing so, you are directly engaging your customers to increase loyalty and ultimately, sales.

Learn how Futureshift would approach your marketing challenge or arrange for an online demo of DirectLink™  by calling 212-444-7192/7193 or email strategy@futureshiftnow.com

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Dancing on Michael Porter’s grave

Posted on January 15, 2013 by 3 Comments

No, Michael Porter is not dead.  Only the consulting firm that he co-founded in 1983 is gone.  Today, the global accounting giant, Deloitte, announced that it had completed its acquisition of Monitor, which had filed for bankruptcy this past November.  As reported in The Economist last November 14th, the once proud firm, was able to compete with the likes of much bigger McKinsey, the Boston Consulting Group and Bain.”

No mention was made in the announcement of what role Porter might play in the newly formed division of Deloitte but he remains a highly regarded professor at the Harvard Business School.

Businesses come and go all the time and acquisitions are a daily occurrence.  What is of note here is that Monitor was founded by a man acclaimed as one of the great business strategists of the past century, and more importantly by his principles, best known as “Porter’s Five Forces”.  Under the guidance of the Five Forces framework and Porter’s fame, Monitor’s legions of consultants found millions of dollars of billable work among foreign governments, multi-national corporations and commodity boards.  That work began to dwindle in 2008 when Monitor had to seek a series of loans from its partners and venture capital firms in order to stay afloat.

In the November issue of Forbes, contributor and business author, Steve Denning, uses his rapier-like writing skills to tear apart both Monitor and the philosophical approach behind it.  In other words, he does some dancing on Porter’s grave.  While the article is now two months old, it makes for compelling reading if you were a believer or doubter of Porter’s framework.  Put me in the latter camp.

I first read Porter’s seminal article in the Harvard Business Review, “How Competitive Forces Shape Strategy” in 1979. I was one year out of business school and a loan officer in a commercial bank.  My mantra was a phrase coined by another business guru, Peter Drucker, and known as “Managing by walking around.”  The idea is that by engaging with people both inside and outside an organization, managers can best understand how their companies, products and management styles are perceived, how they perform and what to do about them.  That’s a simple concept that one could explain in an elevator between the first and second floors.

It served me well then and has since as I’ve made the practice of engaging with both internal and external audiences to find the intersection between internal capabilities and external needs as the place to find the sweet spot for successful strategy.

Porter’s Five Forces, on the other hand, require a much longer elevator ride. The idea is that by managing a framework of five market forces, a company or industry could find sustainable competitive advantage.  “The state of competition in an industry depends on five basic forces…The collective strength of these forces determines the ultimate profit potential of an industry.”


I can’t say I fully understood it in 1979 and I can pretty much say the same today.  I looked at the model then as I do now and ask, “Why is the competition at the center?  Why not the customer?” Drucker taught that the only valid purpose of a business is to create a customer.  Yet, here was Porter, saying that it’s all about dominating the competition.

I had a memorable meeting at Monitor’s Cambridge headquarters in the early nineties.  At the time, I was doing some consulting for the government of Chile on export promotion, inbound investment and tourism development.  Monitor had built up a practice in consulting in these areas and proposed a partnership.  I felt this might add some prestige to the project.  At our meeting, one of their senior consultants explained how they would apply the discipline of the Five Forces to the project.  He drew lots of squares and circles on the board labeling them various types of competitive clusters and argued that it was winning against competing countries, not customer perceptions that would win the day for Chile.

I left there confused and unconvinced that the focus should be on “competitive clusters” rather than matching what Chile offered with customer needs.  If you spend your time focusing on rivalries, you’re losing time creating more innovation to meet growing market demands and before you know it, your competition will be your problem.  As the famous baseball pitcher, Satchel Paige, said,  “Don’t look back.  Something might be gaining on you.”

As Steve Denning notes about Monitor, “Its consultants were not people with deep experience in understanding what customers might want or what is involved in actually making things or delivering services in particular industries or how to innovate and create new value.”

Today, factors such as globalization, the Internet, and the growth of social media have heightened the importance of building strategy around customers.  Now that the world is flat, customers decide who wins in every industry and political arena.  As Denning ends his article, “Monitor was crushed by the single dominant force in today’s marketplace:  the customer.”

It’s hard to argue against the man who is one of the most cited scholars in economics and business and whose ideas are widely used by business and government leaders around the world.  But we are in a different time where the key is satisfying customer needs for innovation, whether they be in features, quality, service, or value.  Companies like Apple, Amazon, Fresh Direct, and Kayak are just a few of the examples of how our flattened world has given power to customers.

Our consulting approach is to put customers at the center and to understand their frustrations.  After all, a frustration is simply an unmet need.  Find the innovation to serve that need, erase the frustration and you’ll find a successful business — that’s a short speech in any elevator.

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