Branding, Business

Integrated Marketing Communication

[Based, in part, on Marketing Communications by Patrick De Pelsmacker]

Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) is a popular term in marketing today. It generally describes having synergy and consistency across all communication channels, both internal and external. But to really understand this idea I want to explore the context and the barriers to IMC.

IMC came into existence due to influence from expanding globalization, technology and consumer power. The world we live in has many communications channels, through different forms of both digital and analog technology. All of these channels themselves communicate (the medium is the message). With mass access to information, globalization, and new forms of communication, consumers have more power and choice shifting companies to build products with a market orientation – a focus on customer need, as opposed to making things company is good at. In an effort for differentiation in this new marketplace, organizations have placed more emphasis on branding and governance. The result of all this is a seemingly infinite number of possibilities for variation in communication and added costs in having such variation. IMC came into existence to solve these needs – to have a consistent message across all channels and be cost effective at doing so.

Barriers to implementing IMC still exist in organizations; it is not something to be taken for granted. These barriers include: general organizational conservatism (sticking with way things have been done), functional separation, lack of market orientation, poor internal communication. In general, the barriers to IMC focus on a fear of change and poor communication structures – issues that are barriers for many things including innovation.

IMC seeks to bridge the gap between the vision of top management, organizational culture and brand image/experience. This requires a focus on (my favorite) touchpoints. A term often used in service design, touchpoints focus on the actual moments at which an organization connects with people. In contrast with a channel which is a means of communication, touchpoints are an interaction and one channel can have many touchpoints. The key is having consistency and synergy in your touchpoints. For example, the tochpoint of an ad on my smartphone game branding the organization as innovative would need to be consistent with touchpoingt of an email I receive about the organization releasing a new innovative product. There would be trouble here if the organization sent an internal email to the staff about being slow to change and relying on older methods as this email would create a touchpoint that has gap with the brand image/experience.

As you may have noticed with “image/experience,” IMC is about more than just what the organization communicates, it’s the experiences (which involves communication) it creates for people. I think of the Wolff Olins blog post about how what you do is more important than what you say. The goal of IMC is synergy and consistency across the brand experience.

Branding, Business

Hold Tight or Let Go of Your Brand

I’m taking an online course called The Secret Power of Brands. During our second week we had a written assignment that asked us to explore the question of whether a brand should hold on tight (have strict control) or let go (give away control) of their brand. It is a very interesting question and below is my answer…

If your brand is ‘what people say about you when you’re not in the room’, how can you possibly have full control over it? In line with the view that a brand is the user experience, I think people should adopt it and adapt it. This shows trust in users and faith that the organization walks its talk well enough that external actors will add value.

I think of TOMS shoes. These shoes are often decorated by the people that buy them. This holds so much power for the brand that TOMS actually hosts events for people to paint their shoes and will invite artists to do paintings.

The era of authoritarian brand control is over. With the internet, it’s way too easy for someone to have a voice in brand. A successful brand would work with all those people who have a voice to make their brand stronger. The value to the bottom line is that more people become personally invested in the brand and the brand is automatically in line with what customers want. This is social value leading to financial value.

The challenge is the issue of control. How does a brand ensure that those who play a role in its development do so in a way that supports the brand? My guess at an answer is: be crystal clear internally about the brand and involve all parts of the organization in the new product/service development process so that customers receiving the product/service have a clear understanding of what the brand is and then can add to it. Ideally, the product/service would ship with an invitation for those customers to add to the brand. Again I think of TOMS that ships with a flag/bag people can use and personalize.

Experiences are not a one way street. It requires interaction – there is a whole area of design, interaction design, about this. The brand as an experience must reflect this ideology. There is incredible power here. I think of open source projects vs closed source projects – more people building something together allows for everyone to rise higher together. I like the idea of an open source brand – we know what makes open source successful, I wonder if we could use that for branding. I wonder how that would look for a company like Coca-Cola or Apple, that have such strong brand images. Again, I think that comes with solid internal clarity and shipping with invitation.

Business, Design, Lessons Learned, Portfolio

(My First) Startup Weekend

Startup Weekend is an experience I would recommend for anyone. It will not be an easy weekend but you will learn an incredible amount and have a once in a lifetime experience. You have 54 hours to work with a team you probably don’t know and go from idea to reality with a business plan. It felt like nearly every hour we were working through some huge issue that almost broke our idea. Learning how to work as a team, delegate tasks and trust people are core elements to success in a project like this. Before I introduce my team’s project I want to share two main lessons that stick with me from my experience:

  1. If you don’t try you can’t get better – This is deeply rooted in our fear of failure both personally and externally – being seen as a fool by others. When we had to pitch our ideas on the first day I remember Nick Stevens saying, ‘if you don’t pitch it, it can’t get better.’ That reminded me of a talk I want to about Y Combinator’s secret sauce hosted by the Commonwealth Club where (as I may incorrectly attribute) Harj Taggar said, “many people incorrectly asses risk.” Taggar’s point was that you will make mistakes but that actual risk of those mistakes is very small when compared to your whole life. I now think also of Chris Hadfield’s TED talk where he says “What is the real thing you should be afraid of? (…) By looking at the difference between perceived danger and actual danger, you can fundamentally change your reaction. (…) It allows you to go places, see things and do things that otherwise would be completely denied to you.” To do anything that means something requires risk and the actual danger of that risk is usually miniscule. Often we get stuck feeling that danger; it makes us afraid to move. This is a normal human reaction. But it it important to confront that. Ideas must be shared with the world in order to get better.
  2. You will fail many times but you will also get better each time – Most people give up too easily. Here I think of Larry Smith’s TED talk on ‘why you will fail to have a great career’ where he talks about making excuses to give up. In a recent post in Fast Company about building the next Pixar there is a section on patience vs pivots and understanding when to stay the course. Sometimes it is important to pivot – to change directions – but it is always important to have patience and persistence to push through the challenges because, even if you pivot, what you do may change, but your fundamental purpose remains the same. There were many points during the Startup Weekend experience where I and my team felt like giving up but we pushed through, we adapted and we got getter each time. We actually got better at adapting to challenges so that toward the end we made changes with less struggle.

The topic for this Startup Weekend was health in Denmark. My team, the Pill-Poppers, focused on helping elderly take their medication correctly, avoiding potential death and unnecessary medical costs. We used a new packaging mechanism that had been developed, named dosage packs, and built a pill dispenser system that offers a sense of freedom from medication. I was chosen to give the final presentation for our team. Below are the slides. We use the story of Jesper’s grandfather, Eric, who was hospitalized because he to took his medication too many times in one day.

Pill-Poppers Presentation cover

Branding, Business, Portfolio

Ad Venture Case Competition – Get Hooked!

During my Integrated Marketing Communication course in the MSc Marketing program at Aarhus University, the class was divided into groups to work on the Ad Venture marketing case competition from the EU. My group was one of the top in the class and was sent on to make 1 of 2 submissions for Aarhus University in the Ad Venture competition. The overall goal of the marketing campaign is to increase employment of people under 25 through the use of EU programs.

My team wanted a marketing strategy that stood out from the crowd and didn’t sound like a usual authority figure ‘get a job’ campaign. Through our research we found that people felt they needed more experience and knew more experience would help. They knew they needed a job and wanted to get a job. It wouldn’t work to tell this to people because they already knew it and the problem still existed. (We were using the MECCAS model.)

We had many brainstorms. Some days it felt like we didn’t make progress but those were necessary foundations to get our ideas out. We used divergent thinking techniques and even used some fun exercises to get our brains in divergent mode. We tried to think of analogies to when someone is in a search for something but my face constant struggle. This brought us to dating and, in fact, one of the people we interviewed spoke about finding a job in the context of dating. My team wanted a supportive and familiar message, so we picked the well known, ‘there a plenty of fish in the sea.’ Applied to the marketing campaign, ‘there are plenty of fish in the sea, the EU will help you get hooked.’ Now our campaign felt more like a friend than an authority figure and could be utilized in social media sharing.

Below is our submission to the Ad Venture competition. It will go into deeper detail and provide illustrations of our idea.get_hooked_final cover

Business, Innovation

Why Incumbents Fail (with Radical Innovation)

[Based on Organizing for Radical Innovation by Gina Colarelli O’Connor, Richard DeMartino; The Performance of Incumbent Firms in the Face of Radical Technological Innovation by Charles W. L. Hill, Frank T. Rothaermel; Structural approaches to organizing for radical innovation in established firms by Ana Luiza De Araújo Burcharth and John Parm Ulhøi]

Radical innovation is a change in the way a problem is solved, as opposed to an incremental improvement. Often radical innovation faces challenges in established organizations and is seen to come from new organizations. Here I will explore some how incumbent organizations can be successful. There are three main reasons incumbents fail: economic, organization and strategic.

Economic inflexibility is about lack of incentives to invest in new things. An organization can have a fear of altering the market conditions in which they are currently successful or cannibalizing existing products. Here the incumbent organization is focused on maximizing their current economic investment rather than exploring new ones. We saw this with Nokia not long ago when it continued its focus on hardware manufacturing and lost market strength due to iOS and Android, leaving Nokia to eventually be bought by Microsoft and used for the Windows Phone platform.

Organizational inflexibility is about lack of ability to change the way things are currently done in the organization. Here core capabilities because core rigidities. Incumbents become path dependent, where they are locked in certain trajectories. There may be shared cultural beliefs, powerful politics and standardized routines, which cause the organization to get stuck in one way. It is important to continually reevaluate if the structure of the organization is suitable for future growth and changes rather than get stuck focusing solely on immediate performance improvements. For Nokia, it may have been that their way of doing things became the way of doing things and they weren’t able to change that until it was too late.

Strategic inflexibility is about commitment to value networks. Here an organization gets stuck in its commitment to serving a certain customer and working with certain suppliers/partners in their value chain. In Nokia’s case this certainly would have been their suppliers and partners.

Organizations who want radical innovation do no have to do so outside the organization. In fact, doing so inside the organization opens the radical innovation to the many resources the organization already has. Organizations will need to become more interdisciplinary and/or interfunctional to promote the kind of culture, structure and knowledge sharing conducive toward innovation.

Incumbent organizations do not have to fail in the face of radical innovation; they simply have to not get stuck in their way of doing things. Easier said then done.

Business, Innovation

Structure and Culture for Innovation

[Based on A Multi-Dimensional Framework of Organizational Innovation: A Systematic Review of the Literature by Mary M. Crossan, Marina Apaydin; Organizing for Innovation by M. Schilling; Open and Closed Innovation by P. Herzog, J. Leker]

This is an overview of organizational structure and culture that has been shown to be conducive to producing innovation. Structurally there are organic and mechanistic cultures. Culturally there are elements such as tolerance for failure, openness, freedom, entrepreneurial mindset.

Structurally, an organization can be defined as organic or mechanistic depending on its level of formalization, standardization and centralization. Mechanistic being high in all three; organic being low in all three, which is more conducive to better innovative performance. Note that organization size does not seem to be a factor. Essentially, having strict rules, procedures and processes doesn’t allow for the fluidity necessary for increased innovative performance. In an organic structure, employees have more control over their job and have freedom to experiment. From a leadership perspective, this is empowering employees to be leaders of their role. A person, let’s call her Sally, would perform well at her job in a mechanistic structure but she would be limited by what the structure allows her to do. (Mechanistic structures exist for efficiency; it’s a high control structure.) However, in an organic structure Sally would be able to experiment and take more ownership over what she does. This allows her to take more risks and feel more personally invested in her work – to have autonomy.

Organic and mechanistic structures may seem at odds but they can both exist in an organization, this is called ambidexterity. For example, the product team may have an organic structure while the legal team a mechanistic structure. This structural separation ensures that innovation focused parts of the organization can perform best while the rest of the organization can run efficiently. Ambidexterity can also exist temporally, where first the structure is organic and then moves to formalization, alternating over time. Ambidexterity could even exist in the same domain, where organic and mechanistic structures happen at the same time in the same business. The important part with all these is balance. Sally is not stuck with either mechanistic or organic.

Finally, culture. Typical elements of an innovative culture include: risk-taking, openness and flexibility toward new ideas, tolerance for failure, entrepreneurial mind-set, willingness to cannibalize, foster learning and creativity and foster constructive dissent. These cultural elements typically only exist in an organic or ambidextrous structure. Once again, this is about allowing Sally to realize her potential and have ownership over what she does while feeling supported along the way. Changing a culture is essentially creating new norms for ‘the way things are done around here.’ This may also include new artifacts such a rituals and language.

Business, Innovation

Managing Knowledge Across Boundaries

[Based on Transferring, Translating, and Transforming: An Integrative Framework for Managing Knowledge Across Boundaries by Paul R. Carlile]

Communication can be seen as the process of transferring knowledge. Effective communication requires an effective understanding of knowledge management through various knowledge boundaries. Here I will describe three knowledge boundaries: syntactic, semantic and pragmatic. These three boundaries are explained through increasing magnitude of difference, dependence and novelty. Understanding of these concepts allows an organization to better manage knowledge specifically in the new product development process and, arguably, in any circumstance. This saves time and money while ensuring accuracy and satisfaction.

At each boundary there is some level of difference, dependence and novelty. Difference is a difference in the amount of knowledge and/or type of knowledge. Dependence is the connection of different knowledge to accomplish a task. Novelty is how different the knowledge is from what is currently known. For example, a front-end and back-end engineer will have a difference in what programming languages they know, their knowledge is dependent on each other to create a web site and there will be some novelty as they move between different projects that have different requirements. These three parameters would change in magnitude were we looking at a back-end engineer and marketer.

The fist major boundary is syntactic. In short, this is the language (defined broadly) that each person speaks. Every role in an organization has its own jargon and common lexicon, even more if cultural differences are involved. Syntactic boundaries make knowledge transfer difficult as there is no common lexicon. Thus, to solve syntactic boundaries, a common lexicon must be developed. This is not to be underestimated; it may take more effort than it initially may seem. For our engineer and marketer, they need to develop a common set of words to communicate with each other.

This leads us to the next boundary: semantic. Having a common lexicon is a great first step but now there must be a common understanding to avoid misinterpretation. Semantic boundaries focus on translating knowledge. Here it is crucial to make implicit knowledge explicit. “It is not just a matter of translating different meanings, but of negotiating interests and making trade-offs between actors.” To solve semantic boundaries, common meanings and interpretations must be developed. The engineer and marketer must develop a common understanding of their lexicon – this can require making new agreements. Essentially, this is exploring meaning. Boundary spanners can act to mediate people in conflict here – spanners can be people, activities or processes.

Lastly, the pragmatic boundary. Sometimes a common lexicon and understanding is still not enough because of conflicting interests between people. Pragmatic boundaries look at how shared meaning is transformed into the actual product/service. To solve pragmatic boundaries practical and political effort is needed. Here the engineer and marketer must work through their specific interests in the project to create a common interest. Boundary objects such as prototypes, drawings and wikis can be helpful because they are malleable enough to change but solid enough to define a direction.

Any activity in an organization with more than one person has these knowledge boundaries. A clear understanding of syntactic, semantic and pragmatic knowledge boundaries allow for effective communication, correct outcomes and satisfied people; this is an iterative process that will get better the more a team works together.

If you don’t understand the relevance of this topic, see the infamous ‘how not to design a swing’ cartoon.

how not to design a swing