Setting Up Shop

I have always been fascinated by the phrase “Setting up shop”.  There have been so many people who I have talked with that use this phrase when launching their business, even those starting non-retail businesses. The excitement of offering their unique services or product mix is just like opening a store for the very first time. So much to do like arranging all the areas for products to be displayed, stacking the packaging and even the adding your business colors to the decor. Yes it’s their shop, their business.

Unfortunately this feeling of having a new shop lasts for just a few weeks or so and soon the day-to-day operations of management settle in and they find themselves deep into micro managing the business.  Somehow the illusion or vision of the little shop fades to the daily tasks of paperwork and phone calls.

Stop!

There still is power in that vision of setting up shop and launching a new business. A lot of excitement, inspiration and creativity were flowing before you opened. You were in the “Flow” of thinking.  It is important to be able to revisit that visual process to maintain relevance in the market. Why? Because visualizing a business from a fresh perspective is a critical and creative process for seeing through the eyes of a consumer for any business.

Here’s a creative thinking exercise that you can try. It involves thinking, not outside the box, rather inside the box or at least inside a different box. When we attempt to brainstorm and think outside the box freely, we lack true focus and some thoughts soon tend to wander or get misdirected because of outside stimuli or distractions. So there is an exercise to help us maintain flow. This exercise has work very successfully in business ideation session where business owners can visualize their business from a fresh perspective.

Step 1: With blank paper, pen, ink and 15 minutes on the clock, only 15 minutes, think about your business visually. See all the things you offer, your branding images, colors and even how you do business. Stay focused on your business.

Step 2: Start the clock now! Think about which retail business you would see your business as if it were a retail business. Not who you want it to be like, but who you see yourself as today. Be honest you’re yourself or this is all for not. Would it be a big box store, national retail chain or a Ma and Pa shop? Think about every detail and compare your business to a retailer. When you have it, write it down at the top of the sheet.

Step 3: With the clock still racing, write down single word attributes of the retailer of choice. At least try to get 5 – 9 clear attributes. If you get more, you can scratch off the ones that are too generic. “Ding” please put all pens down your done. Turn you sheet over or under something to avoid looking at it again until this exercise is done.

Okay, you now have a visualized snap shot of a retail shop or store that you closely associate your with your business. Great, but your task is not completed. You have two more steps to go. Yes, it’s a triad thing.

Step 4: New sheet of blank paper and another 15 minutes on the clock. Ponder the imperfections of your business as well as the successful parts. Do this very briefly and not too deeply. We can always find endless lists of pluses and minuses of our business so keep it very high level. Think about what could be changed if anything was possible

Step 5: Again, start the clock and this time imagine your business as the retailer you would like it to be like. See the store or shop in visual detail. See how the staff interacts with customers, products displayed and the look of the space. Select one retailer that you want to be like and write it down. Time is ticking.

Step 6: Now write down the attributes of this retailer. As many as possible and refine to 5 – 9 again. “Ding” please put all pens down your done.

Wow, that was a bit tougher. If you did it in 15 minutes, which you were suppose to, then you get a gold star, but your task is about to get tough.

Step 7: A new sheet of paper. Place 30 minutes on the clock. This time, place the first retailer sheet to the left of the new blank sheet and the last exercise sheet to the right. You have in front of you is a vision of yourself today to the left, how you see yourself in the future to the right. Look at the attributes of both retailers. See the similarities and the differences. On the middle sheet you will focus on those attributes that are different and quickly give answers to this question for each attribute change. Example: if the first attribute was intimate you might have mass appeal as a difference on the other sheet.

Step 8: In 30 minutes starting now, answer this question as it relates to as many difference in attributes as possible in any combination that seems logical. “Knowing the current attribute, what practices or changes can I make to meet the future attribute?”

Step 9: “Bing” Done, at least with this exercise.

What did you discover about your business? How much easier can you redirect that you have a visual reference? Visualizing parallel conditions such as seeing ourselves as another business type, allows us to drop some of our defenses and preconceptions to explore new options and possibilities. Creating role models can aid in maintaining the focus, direction and purpose of brainstorming. Unlike traditional process of free-form brainstorming, using exercises with visual models helps create tangible call to action for change.

I hope this exercise can help you when you have that desire to take your offering to the next level.

It All Comes Around

We’ve all heard the old saying ‘Life is like a wheel, what goes around, comes around’. What you send out eventually comes back around to you and usually to your blind side. In business this is so true to a major degree, but not always. Many times your efforts lack results or your message is not shared as you had intended. There are many reasons for this that they have been the source of many marketing books. Out of brevity,  I won’t go there.

As some who know me, I have this perception that many of life’s core solutions revolve around three’s. In this issue about business communication, it rings true. To get a clear image of how to make sure what goes around, comes around in your business, I offer this simple, but effective visual thinking map.

Enter, one of the business triads that addresses; what you say, in which way you say it and what others are say about you.

At the top of our triad stands you, the core of your brand. Next along the triad is the mechanics, the method of delivery and closely followed by your customers. Simple enough layout to understand.

So how does this help you take control of your message and what people say about you or your offering? Not much as diagrams go, until you understand the questions you should be asking yourself at the tips of the triad.

Back at the top is you, your offering or as some would say, your brand. You have a very clear idea of what you do and how you do it, but often, we give control up to marketing and advertising firms who generate some branding message that may fall short of your expectations.  The issue may be that the right message is not being not communicated. Ask yourself this question; what do I want my prospects and customers to know about me?

This is a fairly straight forward question. Your answer needs to be precise, clear and brief as possible. Such as; I offer this to my customer, I solve this problem for my customers or my customers should know this about me, it’s the most important issue. This is the “What for Who” part of your message. Hone it like a knife.

Now you have the start of a great conversation. Your side of the story. The second point along the triad is the mechanics. The “How” of the triad. Here you must find the best avenue or method to convey this message. Identify which mechanism works best to deliver your message directly to your type of customer who needs your service or product. Even though there are many avenues and channels to communicate through, marketing experts tell me start with the best and then fan out where and when needed. It’s best to always monitor this mechanism to make subtle adjustments along the way.

What do we have so far? We have a clear a precise message of who you are, what you offer and how it helps your prospect. Unclouded by flashy words, long meandering explanations and marketing hype. Just the core message. We also have determined the best avenue for that message given the conditions of your target customer. We have addressed two of the three points along the business triad. Onto the third and last point.

The last point is the customer or public. This is the “When, where and why” part of the triad. At this juncture you need to know what people are saying about you and your offering. Yes, you can’t control this, however, this important information to know so that you can adjust your message to stay relevant and on target. By knowing what customers are saying about you and your offering governs either the message, the mechanism or both. Ask your customers what they think about you. A better method is to have someone else ask your customers about you and your offering. This is mystery shopping and a great way to hear the customer’s side of the story.

There you have it, a basic business triad that addresses the core of business. As you may imagine, there are many more to explore. I hope to touch on more business triads in the near future, but for now, this is the thINKologist asking that you keep thinking visual so you can visualize your business success.

It’s Showtime!

How do you present yourself, your offering and the delivery?

I have met many consultants or service individuals in the past years. They have presented themselves, usually, professionally, offered a good product and delivered in the expected method. Just like everyone else. I phrase it in this manner because of the absence of a memorable condition, experience or surprise. In most cases I have forgotten their names, the company they represent and even the service they were offering and was left with only a trinket of paper to mark the encounter.

Why?

Possibly the reason for this, besides having age on my side, is that there was no moment of theater during the interaction. The message or messenger was neither unique nor inviting. I was not drawn into to the mystique of the event of the offering. I was merely a potential cash flow to be sold a service, or at least that was the hopes of the seller. Just imagine what the deliverable would be like if it had a bit of more theatrics.

B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore ask the question, “If you had to charge admission for customers to see you, what would you do differently?” What indeed. This question haunted me for months after hearing them ask it at a think tank event. Charging admission to enter a business was so unconventional, unorthodox and very inspirational that it had me thinking about how to stage, storyboard client presentations, drive encore performances and most of all, how to create a story about my offering that would have people attend. As performing professionals, and yes I said performing professionals, we are hired to fulfill service agreements for our customers. What if we could deliver it in such a manner that it could generate higher business potential?

This type of thinking is not as unusual as I thought. I discovered many companies use the very idea of theater to deliver memorable experiences to deepen the brand loyalty, return rate and word-of-mouth promotion.  Apple stages its stores in this way. Their casts of geniuses are costumed with company apparel and each knows their role in this theater. Even the space is designed to create excitement. So much excitement, that customers are willing to schedule time in advance as well as people will visit just to be part of the culture that is Apple.

That’s all and good for Apple, but why should we create theater for our business? The answer is simple and powerful, people remember and share experiences with others and these brand evangelists also offer a higher rate of return business. In addition, if your theater event is stage correctly and uniquely, the price of admission could be higher than the competition due to the creation of an experience.

If you haven’t already read “The Experience Economy: Work is Theater and Every Business a Stage”, I suggest strongly you do so. It doesn’t matter which version, the original and the updated version delve deep into the methods and reasoning for creating an experience for the customer and drive high returns for your offering while your competition plows along in the traditional mode of doing business.

My words of advice for those businesses wish to stand out; create a big picture plan, develop and know your stage, perfect your acting skills and prepare to offer a dynamic and memorable performance that the critics (your customers) will sing for years across the digital and physical channels.

So as the curtain draws to a close and the virtual lights dim in this theater called the blog, I bow to your appreciation and attention in hopes that you will share my tale with others and return back for an encore performance and the next act.

Until your return, good night and good business.
Kevin Dulle, The thINKologist.

Rethink POV

Have you ever had an idea that a product or service could be improved, but no one seemed to get it? Maybe the reason is you had trouble seeing it from a different POV (point of view) or you were possibly speaking to the wrong audience. When the concept did not click, you became hesitant to invest any more time or resources into the idea. Eventually it went to the back burner only to fade from memory, but not quite…

Somewhere deep in your mind it still rolls around bumping into other thoughts. Like a haunting jingle from a television show, it just won’t fade. The reason is that it still maybe a great idea, but needs a new approach or it needs to be resolved completely.

***

Two, what seemed to be, unrelated events were drawn together in a moment of distraction. The first was the discovery of an unusual lawn decoration of a goofy bird in early spring. The second was a quote that was sent to me by a friend a few weeks ago. Spanned by months, these two items would refresh the use of classic practice.

This unusual character bend backwards and under was seeing the same thing it saw before, but only from a different point of view. Combined with Mary Engelbreit’s quote, I am reminded that even what may seem to be a bad idea from one view-point, may in fact, be a great idea when we change our POV or discover that change is not even needed at all.

So here’s my thinking tip: take an old idea and view it from three different perspectives. If it’s a new or enhanced product, look at it from three different types of customers. If you are changing a product or service, look from three different managers eyes. And finally, before you act, look at it from three different processes to decide if it really needs to be change at all.

Don’t be afraid to change your POV, but always keep an open mind, you may just be surprised of the answers you see. Not all change is needed, sometimes the original deal is still the best.

Until next time, keep thINKing Visual.

Visual Cognition

The growing adaptation of visual facilitation, graphic recording, visual scribing and visual thinking has become quite apparent in the mainstream of business development and change. If you’re not familiar or confused by these terms or processes, it probably would be wise time to research these unique practices.

As the thINKologist, even I, myself, find these terms sometimes confusing or misaligned  to the given task at hand. Practitioners in this field who utilize these dynamic skills are often adjusting the language or description depending on the application or the client’s perception. It can be quite confusing for the uneducated who may hear one term then another when the same function is being performed. There is a need for clarity and unifying terminology or categorization of these collective offerings.

As a solution to this slight dilemma, I have come to use a term I call “Visual Cognition”. The mental process to conceptualize, learn or problem-solve (cognition) through the use of visual tools. In my preference the key visual tool is the use of the thINKing Canvas. A visual media that employes the combination of text and images to increase clarity, uncover opportunities or define possibilities of a given issue.

Visual Cognition is not the creation of yet another new process or an adaptations of any given current format, but merely trying to identify the collective processes which now exist and employed for conceptualization, problem-solving, learning and strategic thinking. The fact is when we employ visual tools to assist ourselves or others in the process of thinking we are then practitioners of visual cognition. By any other term, name or moniker this is the process we are performing.

So when the next time you want to drop an intellectual bomb in a group, just inform them when asked, that you’re a facilitation specialist in the field of visual cognition allowing yourself the opportunity to take center stage to describe your skill set.

Imagine and envision your future.

The thINKologoist.

Before I Brand

Branding. A very illusive prey. Many have attempted to find what branding is, but few can contain the wild beast. It seems to me that branding has become a catch-all phrase far-reaching outside of its original description. It has become as varied as marketing has and even interchanged with this term. Worst yet, “brand” is becoming a verb for agencies to help create an identity.

Stop! What? Brand is not my identity? No.

Brand can not be printed, boxed or worn. It has no color, smell or taste. The more complicated thought is that your brand is not owned by you, the company nor an organization. Brand is owned solely by the viewer, the consumer of your offering. Your brand is their perception and emotional connection to your identity or the identity of the offering. So creating a brand, to me, is the wrong statement. What you create is an identity, purpose and value. This is not brand, branding or even marketing. This is ideation at work.

Ideation is that process before brand, branding, marketing and even advertising. Before you can have customer loyalty to a brand you must have an identity in order for a brand to grow in the minds of your customers. Ideation is the process of developing an idea or identity.The best part of ideation unlike branding, is it can look down the path to who you want to become. For me, branding is about the here and now and not there and tomorrow. That’s ideation.

So if you are thinking about “Branding” your business by hiring a brand consulting firm, first find someone who can help you with the ideation process so you know what your brand can become and the branding signals that will work best.