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Innovate Or Die


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To survive and thrive in today’s economy, it takes a lot more than just clinging to yesterday’s strategies and hoping for the best. It’s quite simple really, the future will belong to those brands that can rethink and re-imagine their core strategies. But those that fail to embrace change and take intelligent risks, will likely become another sad statistic.

In "Innovate or Die: 10 Ways To Build Your Brand...A Casket", the North team pays tribute to some recent unexpected traumas, epic disasters, and shocking casualties of the new economy.

But before you go reaching for the box of tissue, this presentation isn’t meant to be a downer. It’s to inspire new innovative ways for looking at your business.


Published in: Business, Education

Innovate Or Die

  1. Innovate or Die 10 Ways To Build Your Brand…A Casket
  2. Will We Be Mourning Your Brand or Industry Next? Before you go reaching for the box of tissue, this presentation isn’t meant to be a downer. It’s to inspire new innovative ways for looking at your business. It’s quite simple really, those brands that can rethink and re-imagine their core strategies will live longer, healthier, and more prosperous lives. But those that fail to embrace change and take intelligent risks, will likely become another sad statistic. Is your business model as sound as it is fearless? Is your brand strategy as compelling as it is differentiating? It’s time to pay tribute to some recent unexpected traumas, epic disasters, and shocking casualties of the new economy.
  3. #1 Veering Off By Staying On Course So your parent company has been standing tall for 40 years. You’re an international success story. You’ve built up a quirky brand personality. You were once the loud trendsetter in the affordable but stylish apparel business. But that’s when your competition was thin and your pockets were fat. Now you’re scratching your head wondering where it all went wrong. Just being ‚the cheapest cool money can buy‛ can’t keep you perched atop the merchandising mountain for long. Customers are increasingly demanding more style for their money (yes, that means you have to pay attention to them). Just because an old business model got you to where you are today, doesn’t mean it’ll be around to thrive tomorrow.
  4. #1 Treat Your Customers Like Individuals Everyone loves a great deal, but that doesn’t mean they’re comfortable running around in Mom Jeans. You don’t have to run a fashion blog to know that personal style is where it’s at these days. The economy may be going backward, but affordable fashion is charging forward. Swedish retailer H & M recognized that consumers wanted high fashion at value prices. So instead of following the lead of its U.S. competition and rolling out merchandise on a ‘seasonal’ basis, this discount fashion chain has been winning by introducing new, fresh designs daily and they turn over their entire store inventory at least eight times a year. The result? Fuller dressing rooms and a long line of happy consumers that can’t wait to see ‘what’s new.’ Speed can be a powerful asset.
  5. #2 Falling In Love With Your Own Voice When things are going great, it’s easy to drink your own Kool-Aid. As the music industry quickly discovered, over-confidence (okay, arrogance) usually leads to under-performing. Two pioneers of the record superstore concept have learned this lesson the hard way. Did Tower and Virgin fail because music was dying and the demand for CDs was in sharp decline? Partly, but, they kept their prices high, failed to develop new distribution models, and largely ignored the more wired consumer. It’s not that music fans didn’t want new music, they just didn’t want to get dressed, leave their house, and hunt for a parking space in Times Square.
  6. #2 Bring New Flavor To An Old Industry While the old guard was asleep at the wheel, an innovative outsider was able to swoop in and build up a loyal following of white headphone wearing music lovers. Apple may not have been the first hardware company to find new ways to make money off music, but they were the first to offer a complete and seamless ecosystem (content + device) for the new digital consumer. By outthinking and out executing the blindsided music labels and chain retailers, Apple was able to make the unheard of transition from consumer electronics brand to one of most powerful entertainment brands in the world. Psst…since 2003, they’ve sold more than 6 billion songs through their iTunes store and roughly 200 million iPods. How ‘bout them apples?
  7. #3 Relying On One Revenue Stream According to, 525 magazines went bye bye in 2008. Sure, ad spending is down and the internet and social media have changed the game, but many of these page flippers didn’t fold because of a lack of loyal readers. They failed because they were unable to develop more future forward monetization strategies. Just last year music giants Blender and Vibe, each with circulations over 800,000, had to unplug their amps. With that many loyal eyeballs, it seems a little too convenient to just blame the ad economy for your recent obituary.
  8. #3 Embrace The ‘New’ In New Media When most magazine publishers were watching their ad revenues plummet, a few off today’s media survivors were seeking new and different ways to earn revenue beyond just ads. Many thought ESPN (and Disney) were nuts when they launched a sports magazine to complement their popular sports network, but no one’s laughing now. When they spotted trouble, they quickly put a bullet in their magazine’s website and have merged all of their online content into the premium ESPN Insider service, which costs $6.95 a month, or $39.95 a year. So far the Insider has 350,000 paying subscribers and has other media executives watching the ball go over the fence. Freemium business models aren’t for every industry, but for these sports guys it’s been a home run.
  9. #4 Don’t Act Desperate Or You’ll Get Dumped A nasty side effect from being desperate or maybe just intoxicated by their own success, brands can themselves in places they just shouldn’t be. Seriously, what makes a seemingly wise executive green light crazy ass (and expensive) brand extensions that on paper smell more like Saturday Night Live skit ideas than they do viable revenue-generating opportunities? When you’re done booking your flight on Hooter’s Airlines and applying that Cheeto’s Flavored Lip Balm, take a moment to re-focus. Before you even think about developing a brand extension to try to ring out the last drops of credibility from your brand, first figure out how to extract the most value from your core competencies.
  10. #4 Be The Best In The World At One Thing After trailing in the gaming race for two generations by selling ‘me too’ consoles, Nintendo took a challenger approach with the Wii. Instead of hitting consumers over the head with a massive list of features and an even longer list of instructions, Nintendo kept things simple by creating a game that everyone (not just hardcore gamers) could play and enjoy by offering up a high-value, low effort experience. They differentiated themselves from the competition by being the best in the world by focusing on one core competency. In the words of Seth Godin,‛ If you're the best in the world, the market cares. The secret, if you have limited resources (don't we all) is to make 'world' small enough that you can actually accomplish that.‛ By shrinking their world, the Wii is now the console of choice with families, and yes, even seniors.
  11. #5 Going ‘Back To Basics’ To break through and create demand in tough times, it takes a helluva lot more than just slashing prices or trumpeting basic brand benefits such as easier, faster, healthier, and earth friendlier. Those antiquated tactics may have worked yesterday, but in today’s consumer-controlled economy you attract eyeballs and make cash registers ring by offering up remarkable brand value. Sure, all consumers watch their wallets, but brands must move beyond price to truly break through and compel a consumer. Get to know them. Emotionally connect with them. They will gladly dole out a few more cents for a higher quality and more meaningful customer experience. Make your brand stand out (again) or you could soon find yourself gasping for air instead of performing your customary yodel.
  12. #5 Smart Strategy Trumps One-Off Tactics When you’re at the top, you must be able to withstand blows from your harshest critics. Say what you want about Wal-Mart, but the retail giant continues to hum along, having just re-branded their image to emphasize more value and sophistication. Their new tagline, ‚Save Money. Live Better‛ tells consumers they can still live their lives with the same luxuries they’re accustomed to, but they’ll just need to shop smarter (take that Target…). The best re-branders are those companies that consistently deliver on their respective brand promises, continuously explore unchartered waters, put strategies ahead of tactics and listen to and understand their core target (Hi mom!) like attentive psychiatrists.
  13. #6 Betting Everything On The Brand (don’t forget about the product…) Starting your own MVNO (aka cellular re-seller) is already an extremely risky proposition but that didn’t stop Amp’d Mobile and their convincing CEO from raising a cool $360 million dollars to launch one with a core value proposition based entirely on content. If that idea wasn’t thin enough (similar plays from Disney, ESPN, and Helio have all failed in the states), their phones, service, and content were being marketed and sold to free-spending (but cash-strapped and internet savvy 18-24 year olds). Unfortunately even a powerful, sexy brand can’t overcome a bad business model and flawed execution. Bottom line: if the smarts coming out of the company’s executive offices aren’t as sharp as the target consumers on the street, you’ll have a very short shelf life and probably wind up in court.
  14. #6 Execution From Production To Promotion It’s hard enough to develop and launch one product or service, but imagine having 300 consumer brands to manage. Procter & Gamble has 23 billion-dollar global brands with sales totaling $75 billion worldwide. Throughout the years, they’ve been known as a bit of a breeding ground for aspiring brand police, but the real secret to their success? Brilliant execution. When you have to acquire raw materials, manufacture, and then market multiple products, you must be able to deliver the right brand to the right place at the right time. To make this happen, supreme execution must happen internally as well as externally with all retailers, agencies, and strategic partners. You can have the greatest product in the world, but if you can’t get it into the hands of consumers when they want it and need to buy it…game over.
  15. #7 Launching ‘Me Too’ Brands In a rush to capitalize on clear market trends, many corporations fall under the spell of seeing a clear gap (no pun intended) and wanting to fill it with a new product or service. But just because you spot a hole and see an opportunity, doesn’t mean you should always enthusiastically jump at the chance to fill it . Talk (and listen) to consumers. Something may be working in another industry, but it doesn’t mean that it will generate significant sales in yours. Launching the wrong new product or spinning out a new division can quickly chew up cash and devalue your brand in the process.
  16. #7 If You Can’t Beat Them, Buy ‘Em For many corporations, developing new brands and products internally is just not a cost-effective solution. If the goal is to penetrate an emerging (and growing) market in the quickest and most efficient manner, you’ll see them hunt down strategic acquisition targets rather than try to build a new sticky brand and quality product internally. Recently, there’s been a spike in the number of acquisitions in the growing ethical consumer packaged goods space. By acquiring smaller but more socially-constructive brands, some of the world’s biggest consumer brands are reaping both financial and social rewards. Whether it’s Colgate-Palmolive acquiring Tom’s of Maine or Kellogg’s snatching up Kashi Foods and Gardenburger, these partnerships are designed to boost both profit but also to rub off that glaring missing ingredient in the bigger parent organization – responsibility.
  17. #8 Slow To Respond To Market Shifts Let’s see, what do you get when you add up a lack of foresight, a lack of innovation, and a profound lack of timing? Blockbuster was one of the most powerful brands in home video (and the U.S. for that matter), but now like an omitted scene from a movie on their shelves, they too could wind up on the cutting room floor (and you can’t blame the economy for this one). The very first national video chain who was known for charging late fees is now on the verge of going out of business for their own delayed response. We know how this movie ends…
  18. #8 Unleash A Disruptive Solution It doesn’t matter how big and scary your company is, there’s always an aggressive innovator lurking in the shadows just waiting for the perfect moment to take you out. Netflix was able to slay the home video giant by not doing anything too complex, but by simply offering up a more customer-centric solution and experience. They disrupted the market by introducing only two changes to Blockbuster’s model; they first eliminated those annoying late fees and then flipped the script on how movies were distributed – through the mail and delivered right to your doorstep. Do you have a market disruption strategy for your brand?
  19. #9 Teaming Up With A Bloated AOR A surefire way to cripple innovation and keep a brand or business from reaching its upmost potential is to build an organization or partner with one that has more ‘busy doers’ than ‘big thinkers.’ The former are typically concerned with how they can keep stress levels low, not rock the boat, and do just enough to keep their job or their chunky retainer. While most organizations strive for greatness, they wind up settling for mediocrity just because once bloat has infected a corporate culture it’s impossible to reverse it. Is your organization and outside agency properly staffed and positioned to break out of its comfort zone to develop ‘never been done before’ ideas? If not, it may be time to grill a few of those sacred cows at the next company BBQ.
  20. #9 Call In A Team Of Rule Breakers Want to produce game-changing strategy? Want to take a hard left while your competition is heading right? Then look outside the big time agency ‘account farmers’ for inspiration and tap some external strategic muscle to spin out a new brand, develop a new product or service, or to just challenge ‘business as usual’. Outsiders can think outside of the corporate box because they don’t have to live everyday within those walls. In turn, they can bring a refreshing perspective to an initiative. You need a team that isn’t concerned with protecting existing fiefdoms, and who will never ever sit in a meeting and utter ‘the’ innovation kryptonite, ‚but that’s the way we’ve always done it‛. Lastly, if you go this route, make sure you assign an internal all-star to help champion this new breed of thinking to their peers.
  21. #10 Behave Like A Start Up For established revenue-generating brands (50+ employees) it sometimes desirable to operate more like a tech start up and quickly be able to change your product/service offerings, methods of production and distribution, and if necessary, move your staff around like they’re playing musical chairs. The shift to doing more with less is not just an economic trend, it’s smart business. But you need to be very selective about the entrepreneurial principles you choose to embrace, because choosing the wrong ones will likely cause a brand to spin wildly out of control. For instance, when you’re having your staff wear multiple hats, or worse, force them to play way out of position it creates a very ‘reactive’ work environment where people are fumbling for answers instead of creating breakthrough ideas. And you guessed it, when this is the case, you have very little proactive thinking going on to develop the revolutionary strategies your organization (or party…) so desperately needs.
  22. #10 Behave Like A Start Up Innovation is indeed the backbone of our economy. Without it, we simply won’t have the game-saving economic growth needed to end our global financial crisis. Is it today’s corporations our government and media are expecting to dig us out of this mess? Nope. It’s the start ups of tomorrow. Yep, those fearless companies that are breathing down your neck and constantly thinking of new and improved ways to run your business (or industry). Study up on what makes on what makes them so successful. Learn their secret sauce. Take pride in your fears. You can innovate just like them. You just may not know it yet…
  23. Tomorrow Will Belong To The Unafraid To survive and thrive in today’s economy, it takes a lot more than just clinging to yesterday’s strategies and hoping for the best. Sure, budgets are tighter and consumer’s have become more difficult to reach, but don’t wave that white flag yet. Now’s the time to move faster, smarter, and more aggressively. The future will belong to those that don’t just settle for trying to re-create their past. After all, innovation only comes to those that relentlessly pursue it…
  24. Recent brands we’ve helped break through… North is a California-based ‘rethink tank’ that helps select companies reinvent and re-position North played a key strategic role in the themselves to break through in today’s idea- development of, CBS Radio’s new driven economy. media player application. brings all stations and assets in the CBS Radio network together, providing a wide choice If you have an exciting and challenging initiative of formats for both users and advertisers. and want to get it pointed in the right direction send a short email introduction to and we’ll set up a In just 90 days, the North team built out a comprehensive brand communications strategy, time to talk shop. developed the global call to action, and created and wrote all consumer-facing messaging for the historic 7-continent concert series that inspired a global movement to combat the climate crisis. Remember, if you’re not growing - you’re dying. North was asked by Peet’s Coffee & Tea to parachute in and brainstorm ways to accelerate trial and loyalty across their new and current geographies and retail channels by positioning Peet’s as ‘the’ specialty coffee thought leader. SanDisk, the world’s largest supplier of flash memory cards, tapped North to develop the new consumer- Northern California Southern California facing brand strategy and three-year business 1729 Telegraph Ave. 4302 Melrose Ave. ‚C‛ strategy to transform their MP3 brand from generic Oakland, CA 94612 Los Angeles, CA 90029 manufacturer to a formidable player in the digital entertainment space, in turn, helping grow their content distribution and consumption story.