What Claims Do You Make?

Greetings.  By now, most of us know about the health benefits of chocolate.  And some of us have even convinced ourselves that a diet filled with chocolate and red wine is a sure fire way to live past 100.  Though new research at Boston University suggests that genetics might have a bit more to do with it.  But before our friends at General Mills get a bit too excited (in marketing terms) about one of their newest products it might be helpful to do a reality check because some foods and offerings aren't quite as remarkable as they appear to be.

First, let me admit that I'm a big fan of this Minneapolis-based international food company and many of its brands.  I eat the original Cheerios, Wheaties, and Total many mornings, and often keep a supply of Nature Valley granola bars at my desk in case I need a quick snack.  I also enjoy many Progresso soups, Cascadian Farm organic vegetables, Yoplait yogurts, and an occasional pint of Haagen-Dazs ice cream–especially dark chocolate, chocolate chocolate chip, and chocolate peanut butter.  Seems like a pattern there.  And I don't eat Lucky Charms because I have a strict policy against eating any food that's a color not found in nature.

But Chocolate Cheerios as a healthy breakfast choice might be stretching it just a bit.  Though I was more than slightly curious this morning when my wife Lisa, in her desire to enhance my well-being and support my chocolate addiction, placed a box of "New!" and "Whole Grain Guaranteed" Chocolate Cheerios on our breakfast counter.  As you can see below, the box is attractive and encouraging to those of us who have placed chocolate at the top of our personal food pyramids.  It indicates that Chocolate Cheerios are "The Perfect Balance" and "May Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease*."  With a nice little asterisk suggesting that "Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.  Chocolate Cheerios cereal is low in fat (1g), saturated fat free and naturally cholesterol free."  Which kind of means that it won't hurt you to eat them, but will they really make you healthier?

Which got me thinking about all of the claims that companies and organizations make to those they serve, employ, and collaborate with.  World-class companies like General Mills.  And how many of them sound a bit better than they really are. And, how powerful it is when we make a claim that matters and deliver on it. 

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We win in business when we offer something that is too good to be true and is true at the same time.  What bold claims will you make today? And will they be wrapped in a tasty package covered with value or fine print?

Cheers and have a tasty and healthy weekend ahead!  

Are You Serving “Healthy” Stuff?

Greetings.  If you've ever read the side panel of a box of cereal, or the side panel of any other packaged food like amazing and crunchy Super Cheese Chips, you know that there's a lot of interesting information contained in a small rectangular box called "Nutrition Facts."  While it's not perfect, it is intended to provide some measure of truth in marketing by giving consumers a clearer and more fact-based picture of what's actually in the food they buy and eat.

And using the example below, we can see the good, the bad, and the really ugly in our sample box of cheese chips.  Let's start with the good, because this miracle of food and science seems to have a reasonable amount of fiber and Vitamin C when compared to many other processed foods.  And, it even contains a modest amount of calcium and iron.  Plus, it has zero cholesterol which is pretty darn impressive for something that tastes so good and looks so unnatural.  But cheese chips also come with boatloads of "total" and "saturated" fat, and a single box has enough calories and sodium to sink an adult whale.  So, on balance, they might not be the healthiest choice for a snack–compared to an apple or a bag of almonds–unless you have exceedingly low blood pressure and a saturated fat deficiency.

But what does this have to do with your company or organization?  A lot.  Because the ingredients you use and the value they deliver are essential to business success. And not just for snack food manufacturers, but for hospitals, professional service firms, IT companies, government contractors, colleges and universities, home builders, theatre companies, and any venture in between.  

So why not take a few minutes to figure out the "Nutrition Facts" for your products, services, and solutions?  Committing to this simple exercise will help you to get to the heart of your business and the value you provide.  It will also help you and your customers to determine whether or not your offerings have the healthy stuff they need.  But make sure to be honest about the real ingredients that go into your offerings.  Do they include the best people and expertise, the latest ideas and insight, the right technology and tools, the most appropriate knowledge and support, the best guarantee and protection, the latest updates, etc.? And, are they free of all the fillers, fats, and extra sweet and salty ingredients that don't help your customers at all?

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We win in business by delivering the stuff that really matters in a way that makes our customers healthier and more successful.  Maybe it's time to pay a bit more attention to what you're serving.

Cheers and happy snacking!

Telling a Story That Matters

Greetings.  If you're like most companies in today's challenging economy, you know how hard it is to win a competitive bid.  More and more competitors seem to be going after the same business and seemingly offering more, charging less, and trying to "Wow!" customers with superlatives and promises.  What's a company to do?  Well you could start by telling a more powerful story.  A story that takes you way beyond products, services, solutions, and features to a compelling picture of what the customer's world will look like with you as their partner.  Based on a clearer understanding of their current needs, their future dreams, and the results they need to achieve.  A story fueled by vision and innovation, but flexible enough to change as their world surely will in the next three to five years.  A story with the customer as the main character, and you and your partners playing the essential "supporting roles" that enable success.

It's not that much different than the great stories we all read as children or that we still enjoy as adults.  Stories that kept us on the edge of our seats (or our bed) until they ended–smiling with delight or hoping for more.  Stories that followed a clear pattern and then, at just the right moment, offered us a remarkable twist or turn.  Something unexpected that mattered more than we could have ever imagined.

So take a moment to think about some of your favorite stories and what made them special.  Maybe it was the subject, the story line, or the setting.  Maybe it was the characters, or the build up to a powerful surprise, or simply the images created in your mind.  Or maybe it was all of these, working in perfect combination.  Then think about using these strengths as you craft your own "unique" proposal.

And if you're looking for a wonderful story to spark your thinking, you might really enjoy The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.  It's a work that defies definition–(Is it a book, a graphic novel, a story unlike any other, a movie on the printed page?)–and impossible to put down.  

Hugo Cabret

We succeed in winning business by capturing the imagination of those we hope to serve, and by telling a compelling story of their future success.  Maybe it's time for you and the geniuses you work with to start reading together.  It may be your secret weapon in telling the stories you need to tell.

Cheers!

Casting a Wider Net

Greetings.  Critical problems and remarkable opportunities.  These are the things that should merit our greatest attention.  And our best thinking.  But in the rush to make something happen, all too often we settle for incremental solutions based on old and tired frameworks.  If only we could unlock the brain power to come up with new and better ideas when we really needed them.  The kind of ideas that really matter and create much greater value for those we serve.  And, we can!  By following a simple and energizing thought process.  

For each important "challenge" you and your colleagues face, try to stretch your "thinking" by looking at it from the following perspectives:

1.  What's our best thinking to date?  Not just in our business unit (or silo), but in the wealth of knowledge and insight that exists across our company.  

2.  What's the best thinking in our industry?  Not just in our company, but in the wisdom of our leading competitors and partners.

3.  What's the best thinking in other industries?  Not just in our industry, but in other industries that are renowned for their genius in meeting this type of challenge.

4.  What's the best thinking from popular culture?  Not just in the world of business, but in other walks of life where new ideas and approaches have changed the way things are done. 

5.  What's the best thinking in other cultures?  Not just in our culture, but in a world filled with fresh and exciting ideas, perspectives, and insights.  

6.  What's the best insight from nature?  Not just in the domain of humans, though we are a relatively clever species, but in the amazing workings of the rest of the natural world with all of its creatures, systems, and wisdom.

7.  What's the best insight from science?  Not just in the realm of our work and its theories, but in the brilliance of leading scientific minds in all disciplines and their most compelling ideas.

8.  What's are best possibilities from science fiction?  Not just from our view of reality, but from the visions of others who have imagined a future filled with very different possibilities.

In the weeks ahead we'll explore each of these "places" in more detail.  But for now, realize that innovation and innovative thinking is a wonderful discipline that requires us to balance a keen focus with the ability to quickly cast an ever wider net.  And that wider net means discovering the best ideas, insights, and inspiration from an amazing world around us.

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We win in business by casting a wider net in a sea of possibilities.  And by combining our best thinking with the wisdom others understand so clearly.  Maybe it's time to step out and unlock your real genius?  

Cheers!

Curling

Greetings.  If you're like me and most people watching the Winter Olympics, you probably have one or more of the following questions about the sport of curling:

a.  What the heck are they doing, and why are they doing it?

b.  Who invented curling, and did it start as a pagan fertility ritual?

c.  How heavy are the stones, and can you buy a set at Costco?

d.  What exactly are the people with the brooms doing?

e.  Is there something special about the ice?

f.  What is the typical training regimen for curlers?

g.  What are the most common curling-related injuries?

h.  Is this really a sport?

i.  How do I get to be on an Olympic curling team?

j.  All of the above.  

I've recently become fascinated with curling.  And, if I had more time in this blog, would love to try to answer these questions.  To the untrained eye curling seems a bit odd.  Though it's clear that the participants are really into it.  And I sense that it could be way more popular with a bit of clear and engaging marketing.  After all, curling looks like a sport that a lot of us could actually compete in.  Maybe not at a really high level initially.  But it doesn't seem to require great height, an amazingly well-toned physique, superhuman reflexes, great jumping ability, above average coordination and balance, the need to think and adapt very quickly on your feet, or the ability to anticipate danger.  And, there's no apparent requirement for finding and wearing really sharp clothes.  So it appears to be a sport that, with the proper training and guidance, is accessible to most of us.  And given all of the health and recreational benefits of being involved in sports, curling should warrant greater interest.

So why not spend a bit of time during the days ahead learning more about curling. And, in the process, why not also spend a bit of time thinking about your company or organization and whether your work is clear and accessible to those you serve. Making sure that they understand your game, the obvious and subtle things that make you uniquely valuable, and how they can become more involved.

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We win in business and in life by taking the mystery out of what we do and making sure that customers understand the real value we provide in meeting their needs.  Maybe it's time to make what you offer easier to figure out and even more meaningful to the trained and untrained eye. Otherwise, you might find yourself sliding on a patch of thin ice.

Cheers and have a fun and competitive week ahead!

P.S.  The sweeping is done to make the stone travel farther and change its amount of "curl."  Sheer genius for a 500 year-old sport!