“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” – Alan Kay
When we are not on the Appalachian roads with Digital Builders, a creative agency and non-profit cooperative, we are reflecting on my travels, projects, pitstops and coffee shops. Many of our team have been fortunate to have had the opportunities to play the start up game on the field many times, beginning careers in Silicon Valley. We’re writing a series of articles to bring you some real and interesting stories that can quickly give you a basis and tools to start your own strategic planning for growth!
INTERPRET (assess) yourself and your opportunity – a recap:
- (Cliché but still important) What are you trying to accomplish? Are you solving a problem or enabling something positive?
- What can you do that is difficult for others to duplicate?
- What are the growth areas/gaps to exploit?
- Who are our competitors? The best competitors are the ones you choose.
- What will it take to WIN in your most challenging SWOT analysis?
- Choose a point on the horizon; where are you going (vision) and how are you going to get there? (mission)
- Do I have my stakeholders interests in mind as well?
Engineers Create Technology – Marketers Create Products/Services
Fleshing it out. Back to the four Professors, and well, now there were two Professors actually and they, along the rest of us in the company were back in Europe discussing innovation, products and roadmaps. Our engineers created unique technology that makes it easier to deliver better content – live (like a live video stream from a sporting event), over high speed networks and the internet, in a more reliable, efficient and effective way.
But engineers create “technology” and so, it’s up to marketing, starting with product marketing, to create “products or services” and find or create niches for these products. So, to flesh out our product lineup strategy and push ourselves to deliver the full “potential” of our technology in our products, we kicked off the meeting by running a “positioning” discussion exercise that included challenge questions and group collaboration. It went like this:
What are our distinct technical competencies or breakthrough technologies? What problem(s) are we going to solve, and what are we going to enable?
The issue was that we had a solution that was efficient, but efficiency alone wasn’t going to create a new space. Our modern network protocol transported data and video efficiently, yes. But network companies are always deploying better, faster and cheaper network technology to build networks with higher capacity. In addition, they tend to oversubscribe their networks to save money because customers never need full capacity all at the same time, unless there is an emergency, which is why, for instance, mobile cell networks will go down in a sector when a crisis happens because everyone is using the service at the same time.
What’s distinct in our video capabilities alone and all our capabilities and attributes, collectively?
Our technology’s benefit/differentiation: Our protocol was designed to be able to use the whole pipe of a legacy switching technology. When you do that, you get an extremely high picture quality that’s consistent.
Our project manager pitched the idea that we focus on a specific niche so that we could hopefully dominate that space and drive growth. Everyone was on board to explore possibilities. We didn’t have all of the certifications and classifications needed to compete for top global service providers. Therefore, we went after streaming of sporting events live. We realized that broadcast sports worldwide have always been a steady business and more small, niche type service providers are innovating and experimenting with terrestrial (ground-based) networks because of all of the high speed fiber available – in addition to satellite broadcasting. In this space we were able to meet their very specific requirements and offer service providers full bandwidth on all ports, all the time.
So, there we have it. Lowest capital and operational expenditure value proposition, along with high bandwidth efficiency, but as almost ‘by-products’ of our key ingredient—the ability to deliver a guaranteed quality of service for real-time video.
We all participated in the product development / INNOVATE stage of planning. Instead of becoming another provider of the same solution others were providing, we explored, discovered, and exploited a niche opportunity in alignment with our product’s unique capabilities.
To outpace competitors with first-to-market move advantage—product designers, developers, entrepreneurs and founders all need a process with workflow that will break down the complexities of innovating. What may seem complex at first doesn’t have to be complicated at all. And more importantly, you will do so while remaining focused – from the customer’s point of view – to define products, their specifications, and segments.
The INNOVATION stage, in collaboration with the other strategic planning stages, will help you discover many opportunities for innovation in developing unique, competitive products, services or solutions. Taking advantage of unexploited potential is the way startups or mid-size companies can outpace mature brands.
This process will equip you with the right process to discover from a different perspective, develop roadmaps, and identify weaknesses in your marketing plan. If you find that you keep coming up short at this stage, go back to the INTERPRET stage and run through those questions again—go back to that mirror and ask yourself why you/the company is launching this solution?