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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. 

Get Unstuck When Complexity Strikes

Although refine+focus is seasoned at building strategy, creating diversity, and strengthening brand positioning, the events of the past few months have caused us to reflect on our methods, values, and culture in new ways. Here are a few of the processes we’ve turned to and how we applied them when making decisions about communicating our approach to the pandemic and Black Lives Matter.

 

Step 1: Identify simultaneous complexity and simplicity

 

When you encounter complexity in decision making, clarify why it’s complicated. By identifying the complexity, rather than feeling overwhelmed by its abstractions, it’s easier to manage. Once you’ve discovered the factors that create complexity, rank them. Spend the most time reflecting on the highest ranked elements of complexity.

If you’re getting lost in the complexities, start by identifying all the stakeholders and opinions you are trying to juggle. This online interactive tool will help you plot out the stakeholders and their importance.

Via MindTools.com

 

Spend equal time reflecting on simplicity as you do pondering complexity. Ask yourself – in what ways is this challenge simple? Just asking the question may bring some clarity. For us responding to Black Lives Matter, this question led us to our core value of compassion. 

Check out this great article on the complexity bias to understand our human tendency to over complicate things, plus, get tips on how to return to simplicity.

Via ResearchAffiliates.com

 

Step 2: Determine what is needed to create clarity

How do you move forward when you’re stuck? One way is to ask this question: If we only knew X, we would have clarity, so, what’s X? Solving for X, or what’s standing in the way of clarity, is a fast way to get there. Try it!Check out this Forbes’ article from a clarity strategist that’s packed with thought exercises to help you achieve clarity.

 

Via EnchantingMarketing.com

 

Step 3: Define a Position

It’s nearly impossible to be timely, authentic, and helpful if you don’t know where you stand. We’ve seen it in ourselves and our clients – the clearer you know where you stand and what you stand for, the easier it is to create compelling human content. At refine+focus, once we decided that our core value of compassion would guide us through these complicated times, things became clearer. Ultimately, we chose to celebrate brilliant black voices to help our audience gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of present times.

Check out this article on companies that embraced their positions and reaped the rewards for it.

 

Via BenJerry.com

 

It’s okay to be stuck for a time, especially if you’re learning while you’re stuck. But when you’re merely spinning your tires, that’s when we invite you to try the three exercises we’ve shared.

Ask yourself: What makes this decision simple and complex? What’s needed to solve this problem? What’s my true position on this topic? Don’t expect great writing until you have this clarity.

Still stuck? Let’s get on Zoom and try it together. Send us an email at hello@refineandfocus.com.

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 

 

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.

No alt text provided for this image

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

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

Empowered Women: How to Navigate the Social Impact Sector, a Conversation with Karen Ansara

Interested in the world of fundraising and philanthropy?

Now you have the opportunity to learn more from an industry expert, Karen Ansara, about the ins and outs of social justice work.

From putting yourself out there and taking advantage of every opportunity you can get your hands on, to maintaining work-life balance, to finding something you’re passionate about and running with it, Karen’s advice spans the world of philanthropy as well as applying to other career paths and aspects of life.

Listen and learn more about following your passion and keeping your creative juices flowing throughout different parts of life.

Have you ever been part of a fundraising effort? Do you have any philanthropy tips and tricks that we should know?

 

Curiouser with Google’s Amrit Dhir

Curious people make the best teachers. They ask insightful questions, follow their instincts and solve problems in unexpected & refreshing ways. Notice how their mind works: everything seems possible when you’re around them.

Amrit Dhir, Head of Global Operations at Google for Startups, exemplifies this. He’s a startup pro, gentleman scholar, rockstar, culture builder and truly authentic soul. I’m confident you’ll learn not only from what he has to say, but also from why he says it. You don’t want to miss this interview. Curious?

Jump to the highlights:

1:50 – Get Inside Amrit’s Head

 

5:05 – Listening & Leadership

 

9:35 – Curiosity and Strategic Planning  

 

16:00 – Rapid Fire Q&A

 

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