Tag Archives: innovation

Seeking Free Advice, Consultants Need Not Reply

By Jeff Bowman

Has the evolution of social media tools brought us to the brink of seeing the business consultant on the verge of extinction? As strange as that may sound, it could happen. As a business consultant my job is to examine company structures, programs, products, marketing efforts, sales initiatives and the over arching corporate culture that brings them all together.

In doing this I can create a gap analysis and identify key areas that may be in need of an overhaul, or that are missing altogether. Most often I find that the leaders of the organization either have ear plugs in or blinders on, or both.

Consumer feedback is critical to the business improvement process, but up until recently few companies bothered to ask their current and former clients for their opinion. Enter the Internet, and a myriad of social media tools.  Feedback is now instantaneous and widespread.

Smart companies have taken the feedback process to the next level, and are now asking for customer opinions online through blogs or polls on the webpages, and spreading information through fan pages and tweets.  What was once an inexpensive avenue for marketing messages, delivering coupons en masse and generating buzz is slowly turning into a forum for free advice directly from the consumer.  That’s right, unpaid consultants providing the type of feedback that I might provide for a fee.

The web allows open participation from anyone. Many popular brands have taken to the web to ask for innovative ideas, new programs and suggestions for new product ideas, flavours or branding ideas. User registration allows for the collection of consumer data on a grand scale, that later drives a targeted e-mail campaign and  Voting lines where consumers can select to establish or kill a product line. Some companies release viral ads direct to consumers for their comments before they hit other forms of media broadcast.  There are even companies who openly solicit free advice on their packaging, their promotions, seek “green” advice and openly source new technologies and ideas, that might never have occurred to them inside the corporate fortress.

Alas, the best advice is not always the free advice. In a recent article in Advertising Age, the opening line reads

“Dear consumer, Your 15 minutes are over. You suck.”

Many brands are finding that consultants are still the go-to people for business solutions and professional advice. Despite the glut of cost-free ideas, you often get what you pay for. Smart companies follow the business rule, sell your strengths and buy your weaknesses. The age of consultants is far from over, in fact with the business spectrum changing daily, I think it may just be moving to a higher level, with specialization of consultants into smaller areas of expertise.

Tell us about your consumer feedback.

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Filed under advertising, Branding, Jeff Bowman, Managing, Marketing, Online marketing, Sales, social media

Innovation is the mother of invention

Rhodes croppedBy Stephen Rhodes

Innovation is something new or a new way of doing something old. It can involve changes in thinking or approaches, new products or new processes and often is revolutionary in scope. It needs to move us beyond the pale, metaphorically speaking.

Innovation depends on putting invention into practice, making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and taking it to market where value is created for a customer. An idea may lead to an invention, but it isn’t an innovation until it is commercialized. The benefit is to improve productivity, create jobs, and prosperity, improve our quality of life and along the way create wealth in a economy.

InventionAs a country our investment in innovation creates a competitive advantage. Canada has no shortage of good ideas; but we fall short with the support needed to transform our inventions into innovations. We have a long  list of innovations in agriculture, mining,  forestry and fisheries. And there is acrylics, basketball, the Canadarm, the electron microscope, five-pin bowling, goalie mask, insulin, jolly jumper, kerosene, pablum, paint roller, rollerskate, snowblower, telephone and th zipper. Oh, we also invented Superman.

But with our natural resources in great demand around the world, it is easier and more profitable to invest in resource development. While the prospect of triple-digit oil prices will clearly fuel Canada’s post-recession economy for a while, long-term sustainability will always be an issue.

A Conference Board of Canada report card in 2008 says we are well supplied with good universities, engineering schools, teaching hospitals, and technical institutes. We produce science that is well respected around the world. But, with some exceptions, Canada does not take the steps that other countries take to ensure that science is successfully commercialized and used as a source of advantage for innovative companies seeking global market share.

The Board places Canada 13th in the world in its report card. In short, it says Canada needs to move away from short-term job protection policies that consume important resources and instead support  long-term innovation.

What do you think?

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Be Prepared for any old thing

By Stephen Rhodes

Be Prepared. That’s the motto of the Boy Scouts.

“Be prepared for what?” someone once asked Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting.

“Why, for any old thing,” said Baden-Powell.

Boy scouts be preparedThe RIC Centre is part of Ontario’s commercialization framework – a collection of stakeholders and partnerships among businesses, institutions and local governments all focused on promoting entrepreneurs and innovation. It’s public money at work in an area that can keep Ontario competitive.

Most of us have seen the Dragon’s Den on CBC, an elite group of venture capitalists and a rag-tag bunch of innovators looking for the big payday. I wrote a blog not long ago, Get Dragon Ready that talked mostly about preparation and why it’s so important to emerging businesses.

Boy scouts be preparedAs a marketer, I meet some very creative people with incredible minds, who have not considered the essential elements of business like strategy, marketing or even a business plan. I used to think it was amazing that some of these napkin planners actually got a product to market. Sometimes the product is unique, without competition. Sometimes sheer passion wins the day. Sometimes the product or service sells itself. But rarely.

For most of us it’s hard work and that requires preparation – something RIC excels at – preparing entrepreneurs to take their product or service to market.

Innovation starts with an idea.

It’s useful to know, before investing much time and money, whether someone else has had the same idea, how you might position your idea in the marketplace and to whom you plan to position it. Developing a strategy helps you better understand the long term but in the short run you need to develop a brand with strong messaging that is targeted at your perspective buyer. You need to hone that message because unless you are independently wealthy you may have to pitch your idea to let’s say Kevin O’Leary, who has a finely tuned sense of the possible in business, and doesn’t much like bad pitches.

RIC can help prepare entrepreneurs for market with research, analysis and even pitch polish.Visit riccentre.com for more information.

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Filed under Marketing, Stephen Rhodes