Friday, April 17, 2009

Most Change Is Meaningless

Too many business problems are diagnosed and treated on a tactical level. Companies change their names, redesign their identities and switch their advertising (agencies) at the drop of a hat. Mostly, they are spinning their wheels. In addition to being grossly inefficient, few companies find solutions to their problems simply by changing tactics.

One of the most frequently cited reasons for executing tactics differently is to make companies appear more “contemporary”. Of course this rationale presupposes that consumers perceive a company to be “outdated”. It also presupposes that simply appearing more contemporary will solve a company’s business problems. Neither is necessarily true. Companies earn negative perceptions over time through their own actions, and superficial tactical changes do little to correct the behaviors creating their problems.

The more difficult challenge is determining what should replace a company’s current marketing elements. Even if we assume it is a worthy goal, there is more than one way to appear “contemporary”. Appearing contemporary can manifest itself as high-tech, innovative, youthful, fashionable or environmentally friendly (just to name a few). Tactical elements designed to communicate one of these interpretations would be different from those designed to communicate the others. Which direction is right?

Wanting to change isn’t strategic. Nor is the act of changing. Without an accurate diagnosis of its business problem, a company can’t know what perceptions will help solve its problems. And without a clearly defined goal, there is no foil for evaluating change. If a company is planning to change its name without the strategic foundation for doing so, it might as well pick something as arbitrary as Buttercup—every other option will be equally arbitrary.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Smoke and Mirrors: The Futility of Proprietary Models and Techniques

It seems fashionable for consultancies, researchers and agencies to tout proprietary techniques and models. Most seem to have at least one trademarked gizmo up their sleeves. But while these creatively named schemes may create some PR buzz for their pitchmen, techniques and models have little practical value on their own.

Inventing new techniques and models is driven by the desire to differentiate. Another driving factor is failure. Too many business people have seen the tried and true techniques and models fail, so they, like their consulting counterparts assume the techniques and models must be flawed. The harsh reality is that it is the practitioners who failed. And a new technique in the same hands is likely to produce similar results.

Research techniques and business models are nothing more than tools. And like all tools, each has inherent strengths and weaknesses. Choosing which, when and how to use them is the purview of people. Boxes and circles on a model filled in by a strategically gifted thinker will produce a sharper recommendation than the same model filled out by someone less gifted. Focus groups conducted by someone who understands human psychology will provide greater insight than those conducted by someone who believes that human behavior is completely rational.

Ability trumps tools every time. Who would you rather eat dinner with, a good cook working in a deficient kitchen or an average cook working in a professional kitchen? It is better to choose a strategic partner based on his skill rather than the shininess of his tools.