How to Own Your Swim Lane and then Own the Pool

“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!

1st stage in a strategic marketing model (7i model is INTERPRET) 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?

Engineering creates Technology, and Marketing creates products. Discover your swim lane, then own it, and then own the pool.

To INNOVATE means to explore, discover, and define strategic marketing objectives. Understanding and delivering on innovation that gives rise to brand/marketing plans for multi-generational consumer demographics and in a technology-driven age— delivering ROI by aligning vision with strategy, invigorating and reinvigorating brands that last. This is truly the stage where you will unleash your muse and materialize visions.

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And Get this: You don’t have to have an investment bank behind you to create. You have everything you need to generate new ideas to brand products and services—and—hopefully, even disrupt the market.

The INNOVATE stage provides you with the power of a unique workflow framework to create a strategic marketing campaign for products and services that rise above the noise to take hold of an unexploited market. This framework will both challenge you and empowers you to ZERO in and tap your innovation (‘secret sauce’) in alignment with market trends and market white space.

Through use of a framework to INNOVATE, you will be able to anticipate needs in this digital age with a future-stage approach and design groundbreaking products, create new categories, and niches that ‘dial in’ on ideal customer profiles—integrating differentiation, authenticity, functionality and design. I think Steve Jobs said it best, “Design is how it works.”

[By now you have probably zeroed in on your brand’s distinct attributes, which will serve as the fuel for your brand strategy. These brand attributes should align with marketplace opportunity and bridge market gaps]

This is where the 7i Marketing system serves as a compass, guiding you to stay ahead of new opportunities in the market because it is an always-evolving, interactive, brand plan.

INNOVATION as a Strategic Tool

Following an INTERPRET (look in mirror assessment) stage, in the next strategic stage, INNOVATE, you should be brainstorming to ensure that your brand attributes truly represent the core values of your company and/or product. In other words, you must protect brand essence while you innovate and align your ideas with the opportunities presented in the market today and tomorrow.

You see, the idea is to create marketing plans that are always responsive, evolving, and are true to brand integrity. Many marketing leaders steer away from brand core in an effort to innovate. This often winds up diluting the brand and leaving it in a weakened position. Perhaps focusing on innovation only worked initially in creating some buzz and generating immediate income, but eventually that fizzles and the brand is left with identity and market challenges.

Yes, while consumer appetite is always evolving and a brand must evolve to remain relevant in the eyes of its fans, the core characteristics that create your brand identity must remain intact, yet nimble enough to compete long term.

In the second stage, INNOVATE, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What’s in YOUR (core)!? How can you avoid settling for basic product value? You must passionately identify the core areas of a product or service and achieve a greater solution that will surpass the initial problem. For instance, all of the discovery and data gathered from the 7i Marketing System INTERPRET stage, needs to be assessed and taken into consideration at the INNOVATE stage. You must set out to innovate surpassing end user requirements and developing a solution that delivers beyond basic product/service value.
  • What’s critical to deliver? Push yourself to discover the product’s potential—not just original intent—but untapped potential. When you do this, you enable your customer to solve market, commercialization, and business issues from a broader, more holistic perspective–which means the solution will not only innovatively disrupt the market, but it will endure. Step back and analyze the ecosystem where the problem exist and the dynamics the solutions interact within. Think long-range; are there broader opportunities you could solve down the road? When you innovate from a heightened perspective, you’ll be inspired to build in mechanisms that’ll allow you/your customer to “switch on” the provisioning needed—and when needed—to harness greater value—creating a paradigm shift. 
  • What’s difficult for competitors to imitate? Is there something other than meeting customer needs? It’s worth perusing the offerings of nearby complementors and – broadly thinking of (anticipating) other potential competitors including perhaps those not currently in your market space, but whom perhaps could have the (raw materials or a core value offering) to retool and realign their business strategy to compete.
  • What is truly our differentiation? By now you’ve discovered the features and attributes of your product or service. Consider if this product will be a luxury item? Commodity? Perhaps a division spin off or a complete start-up that are unique to you and have great value and potential. Perform a deep dive, repeatedly answering the features and attributes question “So-what!?” as many times as you practical so as to gain inventory of each of the benefits the solution is expected to deliver. For example, “This does X, so what? Well doing X does Y, so what? Well doing Y does Z!” This type of swot-analysis of each one of your product/service features and benefits is far more sophisticated and comprehensive than what most marketing professionals do today—nobody is going for a “Z” nowadays (it appears). Nobody can sustainably provide “Z” today or in the near future!
  • What’s the Total Return On Investment” (TROI). Think beyond your initial return on investment and value proposition. Yes, ok, you’re saving customers X over time and X divided by their investment in you equals the return on investment in months or years out. But, what are you enabling the customer to do through the solution you are offering? An example – your root-based organic moisturizer cream and makeup create instant beauty for a woman. What if the product was able to easily color-cover tattoos while acting as a skin detox agent? Now you’re enabling a woman out of recovery and reintegrating herself into society to present well and get a job (1st ROI); This job could sustain her recovery (2nd ROI); Sustaining her recovery will save her life and lift the quality of life and well-being of those around her (3rd ROI). As you can see these new value propositions could be marketed later and create new spaces—perhaps in the application of tattoo damage and coverup. In other words, new segments and industries will be ENABLED because of this one product or service. Fleshing out the TROI and the broadest of ultimate value propositions enables you to discover and innovate the optimal end game solution if you care to think so strategic or long-term. This also assists in prioritizing development budgets and deciding on what capabilities are worth building in early into the product or solution that possibly wouldn’t be “turned on” and used much later.
  • What insight have you gained from competitive analysis and benchmarking? The best kind of competitors are the ones ‘you’ choose. Ideally you want to associate yourself with competitors whom are also complementors, creating potential pull-through for you in other areas or supporting the justification of your brand and mission—adding value to your product or service. Overall – the right mix of coopetition, complementors and core competitors provide valuable input and experience into your ongoing brand development and planning.
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Examples of “coopetition”? Samsung supplies components for the Apple iPhone but both compete in the consumer market. The game is to careful and tactfully align with competitors who can grow the joint pie and whereas, you are the beneficiary of the larger portion of the pie.

Philip Kotler best said it, “Poor firms ignore their competitors; average firms copy their competitors; winning firms lead their competitors.” 

In my career, I have often revived brands by harnessing innovation to discipline, ensuring that brands can reverse downward spiral in financial returns and brand reputation—but also, become strong enough to endure market ups and downs.


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