Insights from Nebo

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February 16, 2011

The Limits of Innovation

Sir Isaac Newton once said, "If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." His point was simple. Without the works and contributions of those that came before him, his discoveries would have never happened.

In his book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson refers to this concept as The Adjacent Possible. The idea is that the boundaries of innovation expand as you explore them. Or as he puts it:

Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven't visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn't have reached from your original starting point.

This means that innovations are almost destined to occur based on the existence of the necessary pre-conditions for their discovery. Each new innovation sets the stage for other future innovations. Innovations are less the product of singular genius, and more the product of a perfect conditions. This is why you often see the same innovations discovered in different places, by different people, in the same time period (ex. calculus, the telephone).

Without flash video, html standards and high speed internet access there would be no Youtube. The computer wouldn't have been possible without the existence of vacuum tubes, and GPS wouldn't have been created without Sputnik.

Innovations can only evolve to the adjacent possible. Successful innovations are never ahead of their time. They're merely waiting to be discovered. They're biding their time for a creative soul to build upon the disparate accomplishments of those that came before, and through that combination of existing ideas, create something entirely new.

February 14, 2011

Take the shock out of your tactics

Ever see someone so desperate for attention they’ll do anything? At the cost of their self-respect, they will engage in the most crass behavior, using shock without the awe to court attention. They can be seen at a bar or any social gathering trying to score with a chick, or on your television screen trying to score with consumers against a glutton of other advertisers.

As people are more and more inundated with media, advertisers are getting more and more desperate for ways to get their attention. Sometimes this takes the medium to new highs, but often inspires it to go to new lows. Instead of personality and charm, we’re stuck with user-submitted posershomosexuality as a punchline, sexed up octogenarians promoting web hosting and fancy naming conventions, and companies that feel just because they donate to a cause it gives them the privilege to make fun of the plight of Tibetan Monks.

Shock tactics do help advertisers gain attention. However, whether that attention is a good thing or a bad thing depends on the audience's reaction. Take Groupon’s Super Bowl ads for example. Though Crispin Porter & Bogusky, a firm known for pushing the creative envelope, made some though provoking ads, the people they offended could not be silenced or bribed by great deals on trips or fancy dinners at ethnic restaurants. It’s no wonder they are doing emergency damage control, and the ads have been stopped post haste.

People prefer their ads with a twist, not a shock. Ads must be endearing, revealing something about the way people live their lives, or enhance the way they see themselves or the world. The best ads do not make light of themselves, their product, or their audience. They show their depth of understanding of their target audience, which in the end does more to form a strong, lasting relationship. Shock tactics do the opposite, distancing advertisers from their audience, and their goals.

February 8, 2011

Ecommerce Evolution: From Stores To Platforms

Ecommerce is changing. Not just the shopping carts, graphics, layouts, or best practices. The platforms, the very way that people are buying and selling goods and services, are beginning to take on new characteristics. These new models are less dependent on brand recognition, than lifestyles, scarcity, and fulfilling a niche.

One such platform that has emerged is email ecommerce. A few retailers have managed to turn what is usually considered spam into brand utility. The retailer, Gilt Group, is an exclusive, online version of the invitation-only New York Sample Sale. By offering luxury items at insider prices, they have cultivated a niche market without resorting to bottom basement tactics on the web. Another example is Groupon, and its myriad of clones, which instead of fulfilling a niche, have used the same email marketing tactics to embrace the social aspects of the web. Many people who use the popular service are unaware of or have forgotten that the deals actually depend on group participation, and aren't guaranteed. Just as customers reach the tipping point to earn savings, so has this once annoying and abused medium has now reach a new point of actual utility.

Another alternative to the traditional store to emerge is the embedded platform. These take advantage of lifestyles in order to influence purchases. Platforms such as iTunes, Nike+, Kindle, the aforementioned Gilt Group, and a number of proprietary branded applications make purchases more organic because they become a part of a person's daily life. Whenever a person thinks “Hey, I need X, Y, or Z,” it is now readily available at their fingertips, with less thought and more feeling involved.

As the Internet continues to grow and become a greater part of our lives no matter where we are or what we’re doing, so will the tactics used to keep our attention. As far as ecommerce goes, the best platforms to emerge will not only understand the trends of technology, but the human mindset. They will become more than just boring a website, a message automatically sent to spam, or an easily forgotten and deleted app, but a lifestyle choice that brings the experience full circle for customers and companies alike.

February 3, 2011

Raise Your Brand With Strong Values

There is a quote that says having a child is like letting your heart roam free from your body. The same could be said for brands. As much as companies try to create the perfect brainchild, once they let it run free in the world, it can be a very different story. This is not to say that you cannot make sure it lives up to the family name; you just have to make sure it has a strong identity of its own.

By identity, I'm not referring to its name, logo, trademarks, or visual appearance. I'm talking about its personality.

According to Marty Neumeier, author of The Brand Gap, brands today must forgo the ideas of uniformity and consistency in favor of being dynamic. In other words, perfection is out, humanity is in. A brand that tries to be perfect is not only boring, but usually met with distrust by consumers. It is better to have a brand that has certain quirks so that it will hit home with consumers in a meaningful way. If the customer experience with the brand falls flat, you may as well throw out all your 100 page brand guidelines and identity manuals.

At the end of the day, a brand isn't just visual idea or a creative concept. It is what people feel, think, and say about it. Though there is a strong urge to come up with a brand that is all things to all people, but it will never survive in a marketplace of people looking for reasons to shoot things down. The best thing you can do is make sure that your brand is prepared to meet the world head on, with a strong handshake, a stiff upper lip, and a message that is not only relevant, but relatable.

January 28, 2011

Making Elbow Room In a Crowded Market

Let’s face it –the golden age of product introduction is over. The wheel has been invented and reinvented numerous times, sliced bread has been around for a few centuries now, and all the colors of the rainbow have been pimped out to the ninth degree. So, what do you do when the market is so saturated that you can no longer find a place to stand? You find a way to make it expand.

That’s what Method did. The home cleaning products company decided they weren’t selling soap, they were fighting the good fight against dirty. Now this may seem like a bunch of pomp and circumstance, but there is a lot of substance to their style. They see each bottle of their natural product as a little “green” soldier in the fight to change the world. They defined dirty as not just dirt, but the chemicals and other substances that other cleaning products leave behind, and the stinging eyes and headaches that come with them.  All of this is comes wrapped in a simple, well-designed package made from 100% recyclable and biodegradable material that delivers their message into the hearts and homes of consumers.

Salesforce.com took a similar road. They didn’t become another CRM software company, they aligned themselves with cloud technology. They are for “Success. Not software.”  The upstart company founded by former Cisco employees decided not to sell costly software like every other CRM company. Instead, they let companies take advantage of the power of cloud computing, accessing software as needed from the comfort of their favorite Internet browser. It’s a low risk, low cost model that gives companies what they need, when they need it, without making an investment in software that will be irrelevant in the next six months.

We live in an era of highly competitive, oversaturated markets, where everyone is fighting for their fair share. Well established, household names will always have one leg up on anyone trying to enter the market. The only way to get a piece of the pie is to expand the territory in which you can operate. As Adam Morgan said about challenger brands, when your competition has a spear that’s 8 feet long, the best strategy isn’t to fight with a spear that’s 4 feet long. You have to find a unique way to make a stand, and bring a gun to the knife fight.