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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.

The Influencer Influence

Brands are increasingly looking for new ways to communicate with their customers and tell their authentic story. Influencer marketing is an effective way to reach customers in an authentic and rewarding way.

By understanding how influencer marketing is changing in response to the pandemic, you can consider if influencer marketing could be right for your business. 

Fewer in the field

Brands are now spending less on marketing and advertising, and those working with influencers are moving towards long-term collaborations rather than one-off partnerships. 

Combined with renewed user awareness of authentic versus paid posts, traditional influencer revenue streams in the form of brand promotions are dwindling and influencers are pivoting their content

Via Visme.com

From TV to tablet

With production crews and studios shuttered, brands are abandoning TV ads in favor of more cost-efficient influencer-led ads. Further, influencers are skilled at producing a range of  high-quality creative content that can reach more channels. 

Via Instagram.com

ROIs reign 

The pandemic has accelerated a shift in brand goals for influencer marketing, with businesses increasingly prioritizing sales over awareness. 

When assessing whether influencer marketing is a good fit for your brand, it’s important to look beyond the current rise in social media usage and influencer engagement to seek influencers who can demonstrate their value with tangible evidence of ROIs.

Via Visme.com

Authentic over aspirational

Just as consumers are now seeking authentic branding, they are also seeking authentic influencers with something to say, not just something to sell. In response, influencers are moving away from aspirational messaging in favor of purpose-driven and meaningful content that reflects their values.

Brands looking to invest in influencer marketing should seek influencers with authentic messaging that connects with their community and aligns with the brand’s values.

Via Quartz.com

A new crop of creators

The term “influencer” is giving way to “creator,” thanks in large part to TikTok’s meteoric rise to popular usage. The app has everyday users becoming global icons and creating content that garners engagement and drives trends, reflecting a larger shift in influencer culture

Via Instagram.com

Real people now have the opportunity to occupy influencer-like positions, and brands are thinking creatively about who can be an influencer

For instance, Zyper, a marketing platform that allows fans to produce promotional content for their favorite brands in return for rewards, has seen greater interest from brands since the crisis began.

Via Zyper.com

MUST CONNECT

Want to learn more about influencer marketing? Considering adding influencers to your marketing mix? We’d love to help — reach out at hello@refineandfocus.com.

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 

 

Curiouser & Curiouser: Insights from Our November 2019 Innovation Showcase

We hosted the last Curiouser of 2019, coming together as a cozy group of colleagues and friends. As the weather gets colder, our excitement for learning and innovation has only warmed. We sowed our curiosity, waiting for it to sprout in the new year. 

The Event

The event brings together people from all walks of life. We talk about our ideas, developing them into powerful insights. Even though all Curiouser events are unique, this event was special for multiple reasons. A smaller group of 8 enabled us to dive deeper — we increased speaking time from 3 minutes to 5 minutes per each attendee. This enabled us to explore ideas at a richer level. 

What We Discovered 

Eduardo Pujol shared an emotionally charged video entitled MENstruation. The short clip, produced by the Thinx company, imagined that all humans had periods–thus destigmatizing them.

Amanda Lewis shared a graciously written note on how communal spaces revitalize communities and integrates people. She specifically discussed the need for public pools in the town of Winchester. As she explained, the absence of public pools stems from discrimination and desegregation.

Hadi Medeiros shared his experience with celebratory gunfire in Lebanon. He warned people to be aware of their surroundings and to quickly seek shelter case if they hear gunshot noises. Hadi also showed off the Hopper app. The A.I. powered platform remembers past trends for domestic and international travel prices, allowing one to book flights accordingly.

Curtis Cook shared the advice he received from his coach: “never be satisfied”. But he isn’t satisfied with the quote either. We discussed balancing the never-ending pursuit for greater accomplishment and self-contentment (which, we clarified, is not complacency) and whether humans can ever achieve a sense of satisfaction.

Johnathan Nichols Based on his travel observations, Johnathan highlighted the need for confessional-like booths at airports and other travel terminals. These would help us deal with the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Ameenah Rashid Shared a short and sweet quip on her journey down the post-apocalyptic “Ok Boomer” meme and the birth of the intergenerational hostilities. We also discussed frictions between generations, and what this means for the future. All of course in good humor, of course. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/29/style/ok-boomer.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/29/style/ok-boomer.html

 

Ole Bondevik showed us one of his favorite advertisements stemming from a Norwegian campaign that encourages people to use seatbelts. He explained that Norway has successfully reduced the number of preventable injuries by promoting seat belts. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=quqlIPZrdz8 (warning: sensitive content).

Arsalan Akhter introduced us to the realm of Vehicle Routing. He explained the traveling salesman’s problem and the use of artificial intelligence to regulate traffic patterns. Check these out:

TL;DR

Our discussion covered everything from technology to work-life balance. As usual, after everyone shared their ideas we  voted for the idea we wanted to hear more about. Unlike previous events, we ended up with a tie between two ideas. We really liked our discussion of vehicle routing, and how this presents challenges and opportunities in A.I. We teased out the work-life complexities of a common but inspiring phrase: “Never be satisfied.” In our discussion, we clearly took this advice to heart.

An Invitation

Did any inspiration strike? Do you have any curious ideas that you want to share? If you are interested in attending our future “Curiouser & Curiouser” events, check out our page to stay in the loop. This was the Curiouser for November 2019, but we’re looking forward to connecting at more Curiouser events in early 2020. Send us a message at hello@refineandfocus.com to keep in touch.

Share this with a curious person!

Cover image by Clay Banks

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