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Innovation You Can Eat

At refine+focus, we believe in the power of storytelling. Sometimes, all it takes to tell an impactful story is the right analogy.  

It’s a simple tool that can instantly create clarity by bringing together unexpected ideas and spotlighting the connections between them. One of our favorite analogies combines two of our passions: cooking and innovation.

 

Our Story

We at refine+focus are not just experienced innovators—we’re also proud foodies. We love traveling the world to eat, discovering the best restaurants and learning about the unique cultural traditions that inform different cuisines. Most of all, we love bringing what we’ve learned to our own kitchen. 

Via Unsplash

One of the most important elements we bring to the kitchen is our innovation mindset. Our very own Purnima is an accomplished amateur chef, and she uses her innovation skills to craft dishes that often fuse elements from different cuisines. It’s at the point of fusion, where different traditions, practices, and ideas intersect, that unexpected value can be found. That’s as true of business as it is of cooking. 

@oneglobalchef on Instagram

Innovation You Can EAt

All the things you do in innovation can apply to your approach to cooking great meals, and vice versa. Here are just a few ways how:

Planning with flexibility. Like cooking, innovation requires planning. But in both cases, it’s important to embrace the potential to be wrong—you’ll need to make room for change in your plan in order to respond dynamically to the inevitable stumbling blocks along the way.

Test and learn. Both cooking and business innovation are a test-driven blend of art and science. Whether you’re developing a new dish or a new product, you’ll need to go through many iterations and learn from your mistakes along the way to be able to improve your skills and get the results you want.

Via Unsplash

Combining elements. In the same way that standout chefs create new dishes by experimenting with flavors and techniques, business innovators develop novel business models and value propositions by blending original ideas and practices with existing ones. In both cases, it’s the spirit of fusion and experimentation that leads to unique and unexpected results. 

Catering to audiences. Customer satisfaction is one of the most important aspects of both innovation and cooking. You’ll need to profile your audience in order to create dishes and products that resonate with each customer’s unique palate and sensibilities. Their feedback is just as significant to improving your results and creating a memorable experience.

Via Unsplash

try it yourself

By using cooking as a mental framework to think about innovation, it’s possible to open up a whole world of new ideas and connections. It also makes innovation, a term that many find daunting, more accessible and digestible. We hope this analogy encourages you to gain inspiration from unexpected places and enriches both your cooking and your business practices.

hungry for more?

We find innovation in unexpected ways. Last week, we explored one of those ways: innovation in the kitchen. Check out our latest Lunchtime Live session to hear Zach and Purnima discuss favorite dishes, finding new ideas and delight and surprising your audience. Then, discover how this applies to our business & yours.

From Plan to Action

You’ve done the research, planned the plan, and developed a strategy. You’re ready to move into the action phase—and here’s how you ensure your success.

From Plan to Action

Pay attention to the handoff. The people involved in the planning phase aren’t always the ones involved in the execution phase. That could result in misalignment and varying objectives. Prioritize communication between different folks in the project so that all parties have a realistic understanding of the budget, timeline, and ability of the people on the ground. Remember that the baton is best passed when both people are running.

Via Unsplash

Embrace the unknown. Assume that the world is going to change as you carry out your strategy. De-risk your plan by building uncertainty into it and being thoughtful about what’s coming ahead. When you lean into change, you turn it into a positive force and make room for learning along the way.

Keep the big picture in mind. When moving from strategy to action, you might be tempted to just focus on the bottom line. But the strategic context of the plan is just as important as the tactical action steps it outlines. Imagine a good plan as a connected system: it doesn’t just tell you what to do, but provides a map for the project’s greater vision. You formed your plan within a greater context, with a specific goal in mind—now let that guide your execution. 

Via Unsplash

Benchmark your progress. Stay focused on what matters by benchmarking your progress against your strategy. Use it as a point of reference for any new insights you gain from the field, so when you find yourself faced with “What-if’s,” you stay grounded and maintain your clarity of vision. 

Celebrate milestones. It could be a PowerPoint submitted at a particular stage, or a key decision made at the right time. Establishing milestones, whether big or small, will bring people together and create clarity to keep your project on track.  Aim to develop milestones that have momentum behind them by paying attention to their framing—it should be more about bringing things to life rather than checking the boxes.

Via Unsplash

try it yourself

The road from plan to action doesn’t have to be a rocky one. As you turn your strategy into execution, try these tips to refine and focus your process. Having trouble? Let’s figure it out together—shoot us an email at hello@refineandfocus.com.

want to learn more?

Churchill said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” You deserve a beautiful strategy, that works! Check out our latest Lunchtime Live session to hear from Zach and Purnima on best practices in turning thoughtful strategy into effective execution.

Ask Better Questions

There are generic and overused questions, and there are questions that resonate, excite, and cut through. Asking the right questions can stop people in their tracks and even lead to a transaction or a new business opportunity.

We at refine+focus have seen firsthand the power of a good question to transform and enrich communication. Whether it’s in a business or personal setting, here’s how you can enhance your questions to get the results you want.

 

Ask better questions

Aim to evoke emotions, recall memories, and pique interest. Set up imagery and context that asks respondents to use their imaginations—more space for creativity and consideration leads to more meaningful and unexpected insights. 

Imagine you’re a DJ trying to improve your set. Which of the following sparks more curiosity: “What makes a great DJ?” or “When is the last time a DJ played a song you loved?”

Via Unsplash

Determine your intention. It’s not always the case that the question with the highest response rate is the most valuable—it could be that the one with the least responses has the highest conversion rates. That’s why you need to know your intention before you set out. 

Ask yourself, who is my audience? What’s the real reason that I’m asking my question?

Tailor your technique. Asking a question is the just first step in a series of engagements. Having a conversation with someone is much more about them than what you’re trying to achieve through them. The more background you have on a person, the better you can refine and focus the questions you’re asking. 

Via Unsplash

Our step by step method

1. Start with the result. If you have a very small window with someone, you need to know what your end goal is. Once you’ve determined that, move on to step two.

2. Consider what you need from the person. Ask yourself, what are the various reasons why this person might be inclined to help me achieve my desired result? It might be shared histories, similar backgrounds, or a favor owed to you. Keep this in mind for step three.

3. Formulate your questions. Cater to your audience. What gets them excited? What questions can you ask in this window of time that will get them most inclined to take the end action you want them to take? 

4. Design a sequence. Start with something direct, immediate, and easy to answer. Build off of that as you get more clues about the person and as you build a rapport with them. The order in which you ask your questions is just as important as the questions themselves.

5. Make your ask. Asking targeted and evocative questions will create the ideal conditions for your desired results. Remember that the best answers come from a place of engagement.

Via Unsplash

try it yourself

Questions are the mechanism you can use to get you to a better place. Start collecting questions—the ones that make you think, that ask you to use your imagination, that get you eager to keep the conversation going. 

Create a list of the questions you think will excite your audience. What do the people you reach actually want to answer? What kinds of questions will motivate them to respond? Don’t stop at 5 questions—go for 50. 

These tips may be familiar to you, but we’re inviting you to actually try them out. Let us know how they go for you—shoot us an email at hello@refineandfocus.com. We’d love to hear from you.

 MORE ON asking better questions

Are your questions helping you gain clarity? In our latest Lunchtime Live session, Zach and Purnima go over practical situations from a new perspective and introduce helpful approaches to asking better questions. Learn how better questions lead to better answers, better outcomes, new insights, deeper learning, and more meaningful connections in our latest video.

Tell Better Stories

Not the same stories with more tools, or the same stories on different marketing channels. Better. Stories.

Tell Better Stories

Start with your LinkedIn summary section. Imagine you were asked the perfect question that set you up to tell a powerful story. Try it and answer it. For example, “tell me a story that shows me how much you love what you do.”

If you’re a brand, start with gathering the many stories about you. Discuss what you like about them. Explore them by acting (seriously, act it out) or drawing the story out. Only then see how they come to life with media.

You’ve created a strategy for your brand messaging, but have you created a strategy house for your brand storytelling? Create compelling situations and narratives in which they come to life.

Our brains are preprogrammed to respond to stories. It’s been this way since before the creation of the pen.

You don’t have to create a new story to be effective, simply repurpose one of the existing 7 plot lines: 1. Overcoming the monster 2. Rags to riches 3. The quest 4. Voyage and return 5. Comedy 6. Tragedy 7. Rebirth

Via GoodReads.com

(Source: Christopher Booker, Seven Basic Plots)

One day our team was working on a content calendar for one of our clients. We decided to take one important benefit about the brand, ‘it helps people feel better,’ and we turned that benefit into stories by casting it into the different aforementioned plots: escaping the monster became a journey to run from illness, and rags to riches turned into a story of good luck and good fortune finding the product. This simple exercise transformed brainstorming and list making into imagining and meaning making. The results were far richer.

Before You Go,

The desire to tell better stories is where it all begins. Like the topic, read on Why Your Brain Loves Good Story Telling?

WANT TO TELL EVEN BETTER STORIES?

Want to learn more about effective storytelling? Check out our LinkedIn Live  “Tell Stories Better” : A Live Event Recorded.

Everyone Has a Plan Until…

“Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth” — Mike Tyson

COVID-19 was the punch in the mouth to many of our best intended strategic growth plans. This created new demand for approaches to planning that incorporate agility and resourcefulness. 

Add innovation to your strategic planning

The traditional process of strategic planning involves growing existing revenue streams and scaling what already works in your business. But the uncertainty of COVID-19 demands innovation planning, which, according to Innovation Zen, “creates new business models, is centered on the market and aims to find new ways of value creation”. 

Strategic planning and innovation planning are different because strategic planning works within your existing business model, while innovation planning unlocks new potential and is significantly more agile.

Via Innovation Zen.com

Tips to get started

We know that any type of planning amidst uncertainty can be daunting, but innovation planning really thrives in this context. We have some easy ways to help you get started and make the process enjoyable and productive. 

Adopt an innovation mindset. Unlocking a creative innovation mindset requires embracing the potential to be wrong, becoming comfortable with ambiguity, and remaining consistent in your efforts. This mindset is imperative to innovation planning because it ensures that you will respond dynamically to the inevitable stumbling blocks and developments that will complicate your planning.

 

Via GeorgeCourous.com

 

Try the business model canvas. The business model canvas is a great innovation tool because of its adaptability and simplicity. Treating it like a vision board for your planning helps you think flexibly about your business. It’s also an adaptable tool because that you can fit to your own needs. If the BMC is too daunting, you can start with Kanban.

 

via This is Service Design Doing.com

 

Use the Lists and Choices method.This very simple approach to planning involves making lists by thinking exhaustively, then editing those lists by making choices. Although it may seem intuitive, it can be incredibly powerful as it encourages us to segment our mindset – first to really think creatively without judgement when we brainstorm, then to be deliberate when we evaluate.

By Purnima Thakre

 

Establish decision making boundaries. To make your planning sessions productive, determine ahead of time how final decisions will be made. Will it be democratic through dot voting? Or will there be one final decision maker?

Via Aalpha.com

 

Try it yourself!

There are numerous ways to approach innovation planning, ranging from changing your mindset to experimenting with new tools. Pick a few of the tips to try and test them out. We’re curious to hear how it goes.

P.S.

Want to learn more about innovative strategic planning? Check out our CEO Zach Braiker and COO Purnima Thakre’s LinkedIn Live event for more best practices and simple tips.

It’s 2020, Learn from Your Customer

Your customer has all the answers. The art, however, lies in being able to gather those insights efficiently and act on them effectively. 

Why getting it right matters

Sustain growth. If you care about your customer and meet their needs, you won’t need to worry about the competition. 

Save resources. According to research by Vonage, an estimated $62 billion is lost by U.S. businesses each year following bad customer experiences. By understanding your customer and their customer journey, you can optimize your business to provide the best customer experience.

Via Paco.com

 

Build your ability to pivot. If you know your customer inside and out, you will know how to meet their deepest needs even when situations change. For example, Netflix recognized that pre-COVID consumers liked to stream shows and have communal viewings. During COVID, Netflix developed Netflix Party as a way for people to be able to continue to do this despite social distancing.

What to learn from your customer

Learn everything you possibly can (then ask WHY). Learn about their behavior, psychology, likes-dislikes, needs-wants, what they love-hate, what they are trying to achieve and more. Above all, learn the why behind all of those behaviors and feelings.

Via Hyken.com

How to learn from your customer

A mindset change requires breaking down past barriers and starting new habits.

Listen with empathy and objectivity. It’s imperative that companies listen with empathy, not judgement. Learning from customers is best when companies are curious and open to learn, not seeking to justify.

Break corporate barriers and stop working in silos. Empower everyone in your organization to be obsessed with understanding your customer. Not just the frontline of sales and marketing. 

Form new habits to support a culture of curiosity. Insert the customers’ voice in decisions and continue to gather customer insight from objective surveys, interviews, and co-creation. Use Strategyzer’s customer insight cards to capture what you discover.

Want to learn more about the art of learning from your customers? Here is our Live session recorded. 

The Next Big Thing in E-commerce: Brick and Mortar

Just a decade ago, many people believed that the future of retail was online. Now, it seems like e-commerce needs brick-and-mortar to fly higher. 

In 2017, Amazon, the world’s biggest e-commerce player took a surprising move. It acquired Whole Foods and hence controlled more than 450 physical stores. It was enough to raise analysts’ eyebrows: where is the online “game” heading? For example, Warby Parker has also been opening more physical stores. Personally, I thought these physical stores would be a complete failure, particularly because at the beginning Warby Parker said that they would only focus on online channels. 

These efforts may seem counterintuitive, especially because online channels themselves are still growing significantly. Driven by my curiosity and simple logic, there are  3 key reasons why companies are heading back into the brick-and-mortar ecosystem.

Physical Experiences Matter

Let’s imagine that you have a holiday party coming up and decide to buy a new outfit at an online channel. Naturally, someone will get worried whether the size will exactly match their needs or not. That’s one of the critical pain points (a.k.a unsolved gap) in the online shopping experience.

Regardless of how sophisticated and convenient online channels are, consumers still miss certain elements from the in-person experience. As an example, my cousin still wants to hear advice from store assistants regarding which outfit to choose. She is willing to sacrifice a big online discount and come directly to the store to experience the product first hand. 

As a PWC report argues, human interaction is the key of consumer experience. An NRF survey shows that 60% of shoppers are driven into physical stores to try out products and see product demonstrations. They would rather have the option to test equipment before purchasing than return it for a full refund after the purchase online. 

Scott Tanner, CEO of Boll & Branch confirmed this rationale and said, “The main reason consumers wouldn’t buy our product online was because they wanted to be able to feel it themselves. We are remedying that with our physical locations.” This trend is real and not just an attempt to test the waters.

Source: SoftwareAdvice

A Halo Effect from Omni-channel

As for the previous generation, my parents are less confident in online channels that have no physical stores; they simply worry they might get fooled. LandUseUSA discovered that consumers are most loyal to brick and mortar stores with an online presence. With so many players in the online space, it is getting more challenging to stand out from the crowd. 

A combination of e-commerce capabilities and a brick-and-mortar experience results in omni-channel experiences that solidifies brand loyalty. This approach allows shoppers to order products online, pick them up at stores, and even try them on before they commit to the purchase. Some argue that they may even end up buying additional items in the physical store, although their initial trip was just to pick up online purchases. Through discrete observation, I’ve noticed that more often people end up buying additional items when picking up their online orders at retailers such as Target. It starts by finding interesting products in the entrance and culminates in  being tempted by other sections of the store. 

Building physical stores comes with a significant investment. However, businesses always find a way out. Marc Jacobs, a recognized fragrance brand tested the water by opening pop-up stores and accepted “social currency” in exchange for its product. This pop-up tactic promotes brand awareness while gauging performance before committing to a long-term store lease. More brick-and mortar locations mean more people talking about your brand since they have seen it in real life. Visit CNU for additional data.

The E-commerce Game has One Prize: Efficiency 

All businesses are oriented towards creating value, and e-commerce is no exception. Back to my cousin’s story: if she has to buy a product online, she will pick it up at the store. She wants to check it directly and make a quick decision whether she wants to take it or return it. Amazingly, big e-commerce captures my cousin’s behavior within their consumer pool and monetize that insight. Amazon claimed that by bringing a return locations within 15 miles could lower its per-package shipping cost roughly from $10 to $2.

According to Salesforce, the majority of people still start product searches online but buy the products at the physical stores. If consumers are buying at stores, then they don’t need to pay the shipping cost, which helps save money in the  expense equation. Target CEO recently said, “When Target fulfills an online order through in-store pick up, about 90% of the order cost goes away.” Both savings are achieved by leveraging a brick-and-mortar approach. It absolutely leads to a huge amount of potential savings for brands. 

At the end of the day, brick and mortar is something that can’t be avoided by e-commerce business. Both channels exist to complement each other, not to kill one another. 2020 is around the corner, and businesses are starting to set up battle strategy for the upcoming season. 

If you have an online business and are curious about how to equip yourself with the most relevant channels and go-to-market strategy, our team will be happy to help — Message us at hello@refineandfocus.com and let’s talk. 

Cover picture by Blake Wisz via Unsplash 

 

To Focus on Growth, Focus on Customer Experience

Customer experience (CX) is more than a buzzword: it is a decision to understand your customer, place their needs at the center of your business and use the insights it creates to drive growth. With more data, tools, methods and sources than ever before to accomplish this, it can be both easier and more overwhelming at the same time.

We see the opportunity to get to know the customer, a chance to build meaningful relationships and test hypotheses. This practice is at the center of everything we do.

CX is becoming an essential component if you wish to gain and retain customers, and those who do not employ it would miss out on major opportunities to improve the efficiency of their onboarding process and the lifetime value of their customers. In 2017 businesses lost $75 billions to competitors due to poor customer experience only in the US. If you are not fully convinced, here are some numbers that shows the importance of CX:

While 80% of businesses believe that they will compete mainly based on CX, according to Forrester, only 31% of businesses are experience-driven. That means an opportunity for your company to allocate resources on a category that’s proven to perform, and will give you a competitive advantage.

Benefits of a CX approach

The benefits of a CX approach are beyond just financial. They align the company and its leadership helping to strengthen product market fit, and enable companies to build understanding between marketing, product and leadership teams in the company. The CX approach can be applied company wide; it can also apply to particular initiatives, such as developing and executing content strategy and conducting meaningful research that informs new product development.

Where to Start 

Start by building data-rich personas that clarify who your customer is, their motivations, needs and wants. Next, develop journeys to visualize how they progress. Remember the journey isn’t just a snapshot of how they use your products and services, but also an artifact that captures what your customers are trying to accomplish in their lives to satisfy their pains, gains and jobs. There are many choices for how to do this well and a few things matter: That the assumptions are based on data, and that the team is aligned on how to use personas and journeys to drive meaningful outcomes for the business.

This approach is useful for your entire customer journey, and small improvements can have a big impact. In fact, only a 5% improvement in customer retention will have a major impact of between 25 to 95% increase in profit growth.

In all cases, good CX starts and ends with customer understanding.

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Source: Hotjar (https://www.hotjar.com/customer-experience/trends-and-stats)

If you’re ready to take the first step to customer centricity and a CX approach, let’s talk. We’ll guide you from curiosity to action, or if you’re an experienced company, product or marketing team, we’ll show you the latest methods for developing, and applying, this approach to strengthen your company. Let’s talk: hello@refineandfocus.com

Thank you Ole Bondevik for contributing to this article with exceptional research and strategic thinking.

Thanks to Phuong Tran for making this photo available freely on @unsplash

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