Branding, Innovation and Productivity for SME (SMB)

For SME (Small, Medium Scale Enterprises) to scale up and be successful, they must understand that innovation is about creating value and differentiating from others in shibumi (elegant simplicity), the multi-dimensions of customer value, the power of branding, systematic innovative methods BVITS, and the steps to take. Read on for the details….

Invited by NUS Extension to participate in a Emerging Enterprise Round-table that resulted in the publication in Business Times Business Times 2 April 2013.
http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/print/522165 on the topic “Getting a Boost from Branding”. Only the essence of my views was published but still left out many important points that I wish to present below for the benefits of all.

Branding and its Power

A brand is the summation of customers’ experience over time of what it means to them. It is more than what the company says. It is what people say about the company, products or services. These sayings are the impressions formed the customers in their encounters with the company products, services and ways of doing business.

A brand is then the trusted statement of company’s identity and values in the market by the public.

A good brand is like a flower that draws customers. Whereas for no brand companies, they have to seek out and push its offerings like the busy bees.

A good brand creates the awareness and short-cut the decision making process.

The whole marketing process of AIDA (Attention or Awareness, Interest, Decision and Action) is shortened. For unknown brand, most people may not find it, and even if they do, they will want to test and evaluate it, ask others about it, carefully consider all other options, before, if ever, arrive at the purchasing decision. It is also likely to be very a price sensitive decision reducing the profits for the company.

In addition, a good brand creates a differentiation that command higher value.

Consider the purchase of smart-phone, the typical preferences and recommendations by people are Apple and Samsung and the prices reflect that. A relative similar feature sets of Android phones to the Samsung are available in the 2nd tier brands like HTC, Sony and LG and they are priced lower. Technically, HuaWei, the China leading telecom network and phone company also produces Android phones that are similar to the Samsung but does not enjoy the same branding of Samsung so that its phones are priced much lower and yet lag in market share in Singapore.

Branding for the SME’s

  1. A Unique and Differentiated Value Proposition – Clarity Needed
    Unless one is clear on its unique value proposition, it is hard to create a brand that stands out from the pack of  similar offerings. To understand this value proposition better, we need to understand the following:

    1. Customer don’t buy products or services but the outcome of a wow experience.
    2. The Value of the experience has the following three dimensions of:
      1.  Rational, Economic or Utility such as cheaper, faster, better, safer, easier, longer lasting. People are happy when they have a good deal.
      2. Emotional (look good, feel good, trustworthy) & Social (lifestyle of class and trendiness and status of wealth and honour) .
      3. Significance of meaningfulness for a good social, environmental, health and long life causes.
    3. Need to address all contact points with customer that creates the wow experience. From awareness, interests, decision making, purchase, installation, use, enhanced usage, repair, upgrade and retirement.
    4. Shibumi (MiniMax) – Simplicity in Elegance and Depth.
      Most people equate more features as better not realizing that more choices actually create stress and errors besides adding production and quality costs. The success of Apple teaches us that ease of use and depth of use are more important. SME’s must know how to minimize the big set of features into a few key features that customers desire and implement those features well and in depth. The branding can then be more effectively done.
    5. Consider companies like Starbuck or Breadtalk, are they just selling coffee or bread only? The answer is no. Their value proposition is higher. Breadtalk said they are selling innovative and trendy lifestyles.
  2. Gap between Claim and Delivery – Alignment Needed
    1. The claim of the Unique Value Proposition must be delivered consistently across all locations, by all staff and all the time. It is in the delivery of such claims that create the customer experience. Many fail because either they lack clarity of their value proposition, or their policies and deliveries are not aligned with the value proposition. There may also be lack of training and monitoring of staff especially when there are multiple locations.
    2. It is important to note that everything, the locations, deco and layout of shops, brochures, policies, procedures, attitudes and behaviour of staff, the delivery trucks etc all contribute to creating a brand and the experience.
    3. Consider Breadtalk, its beautiful shop deco, the innovative bread products, opened kitchen, its locations at high end shopping malls, friendly staff and others are all aligned to its vision of creating the trendy and innovate lifestyles.
  3. Handing of Complains or Defects – Be Positive
    1. Most typical reactions to customers complains are to blame others and pass the bugs.
    2. Instead, one needs to have a positive attitudes towards customers’ complains. Customer’s complain is actually customer giving us a second chance to make good. If we can recover well then we will gain a loyal customer.  He or she will also tell others about your good service too.
    3. We need to understand the multiplying effect of customers complains or praise. A unhappy customer will tell many others. A happy customer may tell others too. Why not make his/her praise of telling others easy too?

Steps for the Branding

  1. Put in a Branding Process to be led by the CEO and involving other key staff. The objective is to create their unique brand and work out the tasks, staff, budgets and timelines with monitoring of the progress. Branding is not a one off exercise. The brand is the company’s identity and value statement to the world and should be a prime concern for top to bottom.
  2. Work out the Unique & Differentiated value proposition and communicate it throughout the company.  Sessions with the key customers should be arranged to ensure the value proposition is also welcome and experience by the customers. A common error is to think what the customers would like rather than finding out from the customers. The Value Proposition should be viewed from the customers’ eyes.
  3. Ensure all staff understand that branding is more than just marketing but more importantly, it is the delivery of the value proposition at all contact points with the customers.  Every staff has a role to play. Find and show the right behaviour for that role. A common error is to state the objective. like serve the customer well, without telling the how, resulting in every staff having their own interpretation of what ‘serve well’ means and creating inconsistency of service.
  4. List out all the potential contact points with customers and work out how should the delivery be done such that customers can have a wow experience. The delivery could be the key product features, service levels, the ways business are done, the environment of the engagement, the right behaviour and attitudes of staff.
  5. Beside training the staff, managers should lead by examples, showing staff what are the right behaviour. Managers should also praise staff when staff exhibit the right behaviours so that other staff may know too. Correction should not be just saying what were wrong but also what are the right way. Managers should also show staff how to behave towards nasty customers. Managers should also celebrate successes.
  6. Engage the very satisfied customers and involve them in coming out with reference-able case studies and suggestions for new innovations. Engaging the very dissatisfied  and former customers also give us valuable information on how to improve our offering.
  7. Have a Social Network Presence with dedicated team  to engage with the wider audience base. Carefully monitor its content, activities and response positively to criticisms and complains. Make the work of customers giving feedback and recommendations easy for them.
  8. Collect and review customers feedbacks at all contact points regularly. It serves two purposes. Firstly is ensuring alignment to the company value proposition. Secondly is to detect if customers preferences and trends have changed.

Innovation for Higher Value and Profits

Innovation is the way to break free from the fierce commoditized competition of low margin and price cutting. However, one must understand ‘Innovation’ well in order to create the innovation that bring in the value and productivity.

Innovation is about converting intangible ideas into tangible products (including information content) and/or services that are valued by certain group of users called customers that they pay money for. Innovation is essentially business value creation.

Business value is more than just rational utility or economic values of cheaper, faster, better, safer, easier and longer lasting. There is also value in the emotional trigger of look good feel good and social values of lifestyle and status. There is the significance or meaningful value of contributing to the social community, protecting the environment, making life healthier and longer. By looking at the various dimensions of this value, there are much an SME can do in improving the emotional, social and meaningful value of their offerings.

Furthermore, innovation is not just restricted to products or even services. Innovation can occur through out the entire supplier chain, to production and operation, management and the distribution chain to the final customers or users. There can be innovations, such as a better or cost saving production methods, or finding a better source of supply, or better organization of tasks and team.  Re-thinking about our offering and finding new meaning is also innovation. Consider lights as not just giving brightness but also creating the right ambient to create the right moods bring the lights into new markets.

By seeing innovation as creating a wow experience for customers, the company can workout and improve the engagement with customers at the various contact points to increase the delights of the customers resulting greater customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Innovation brings value and is easy. Have a right understanding of innovation and then workout the details will enable the SME’s to create differentiated offering of higher value and reduced costs.

Productivity, Higher Salary and Less Staff Turnover

With the right understanding on innovation (as in Q4),  SMEs have to construct and look at their business model in terms of value consumption(values used by customers), value delivery(the distribution to customers), value creation(the manufacturing or production model) and value capture (the financial model) and reallocate the manpower, skills, tools and automation costs.

Some very basic question have to be asked:

  1. What features are really important to customer and can we offer less to cut production costs or offer more to increase the price.
  2. What are easy for us and hard for others to do? We should do more of those.
  3. Who does it best? Is it better to automate or for the staff to do? Can we ask the customers to do it (e.g. self-serve or self assembly)? Can our suppliers do it for us (suppliers configure, pack, and ship directly to customers)? etc.

BVITS Creative Thinking for Breakthrough Ideas

Here is a list of ten BVITS (Bvotech’s Innovation Thinking System) operators to challenge us to think out of the box.  Apply the following operators to the 6M factors of Man, Machine, Materials, Methods, Measurements and Environment to re-engineer the Business Model to gain productivity:

  1. Take out
    • remove some features and offer lower end offerings
    • remove offerings that are not needed or valued by customers
    • do lean methodology or go JIT
  1. Divide
    • break down into sub-components and reassign features or jobs to get better productivity
    • specialize for greater productivity and skills
  1. Outsource
    • contract out work to someone who are better than us.
  1. Irregularize
    • From standardized one size fit all to custom-made or personalization.
    • As an example, a very successful start-up called Littlemissmatch of USA sells shocks in package of three in different colours and patterns instead of a pair of same colour and pattern.
    • Flexible working hours and locations for staff.
  1. Invert
    • reverse the roles e.g. customers self-serve, self-assembly.
    • staff pick their team leaders to lead them.
  1. Multiply
    • Make two or more copies of some key components like dual or quad core CPUs, triple or Quattro blades razor etc.
    • Staff acquired more skills to be more flexible and can work at different jobs at different times according to needs.
  1. Acquire
    • offer an offering that is better than the market.
    • hire staff from companies that are closing down.
  1. Combine
    • one product for multiple uses e.g. Smartphone
    • put diverge skills people into a team for general problem solving.
  1. Extremitify
    • serve the people at the edges e.g. baby, old age, odd sizes.
    • make product usable at extreme conditions e.g. ruggedized.
  1. Learn from others
    • practices in other industries and even from natural science e.g. Biomimicry.

Finally, increase the value of job so that the staff can enjoy higher pay and job satisfaction.  Staff turnover is a big cost not just of hiring but also lost of expertise, retraining, re-deployment and adaptation into productive teams.

Lim Liat (c) 4 April 2013

The War of Tablets – Who will win?

The statement by Jeff Bezos of Amazon tells us that the war of tablets is not just about hardware. It is about the digital Eco-systems in which the tablet is only a link. It not just the initial purchase but the usage of it to gain access to the vast digital world of content and social connection that matters more. Who will win or loose will depend on how it is used. The digital world Eco-system is presented first. It is follow by my 4D Innovation Ecosystem model to help entrepreneurs to come out with their strategies for survival and growth. Looking at the leaders such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft, and seeing their views, we get to understand their competitive position and advantages. Should Facebook join the war?

It is Not about Hardware Only

Invention doesn’t stop with the hardware…. We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices. If someone buys our devices and puts them in the drawer and never uses them, we don’t deserve to make money.- Jeff Bezos, Amazon.

The Digital World Ecosystem

The 4D Innovation Model and Strategies for Success

The Views of the Leaders

Amazon – Tablet as Extension of eBook Readers and Entrance to e Shopping
As shown in the mind-map above, Amazon is in the tablet game from its very successful eBook readers. But its specialized eBook readers can be easily replaced by the general purpose tablet like the iPad just as the successful Philips word processor equipments were replaced by PC’s later. But Amazon’s Android tablets are built for eBook reading as first priority. As entrance to its vast amount of content (besides eBooks, Amazon is now like a super mall), it must be cheap and good from the eBook and e Shopping points of view. Amazon will tilt its tablets to create an enchanting experience for e-shopping at its sites and for greater reading and watching pleasure.

Apple – Tablets as filling the gap between iPhone 4″ and Mac Big Display
Apple iPhone comes from iPod (music player), iTouch (no need for PC to buy and play songs). iPhone is but iTouch with phone communication add-on. iPhone is a cloud device and not a phone. Nokia saw the world as phone and expanded from phone but was too slow to reach the cloud of digital content and social connection. iPad is just filling up the gap between the small display of iPhone and the large and not too mobile Mac Notebook. Steve Jobs did not think there was a need for a smaller device in between. Cook thought they should protect themselves from others and come out with iPad mini. But iPad mini is still slightly larger than the other, 7.9″ vs 7″ and it was intentionally for preserving the display of iPad 2 experience (smaller but no loss of display content), showing Apple’s tight adherence to user’s experience. Smaller, lighter, cheaper but no other inconvenience caused. A good guide for all others to follow.

Google – Tablet as a device to Connect to its Organized World of Information
Google is still very much information base rather than quality music(Apple) or quality video(Amazon’s intent) base. A great strength is its open standard based vs Apple more proprietary iOS and iTunes store. It is expanding in many directions to establish itself as the main key player in the digital world since its search engine is under challenged from many others, like Microsoft’s Bing and others. Google with its innovative culture will continue to come out with many offerings and may be one of them will make it great like their search engine. For Google then, the tablet needs to be as flexible as possible to do all the wonderful things that they are coming out with. Their mind-set is still very much consumers base and one way of expansion is go into the corporate business with better security and management tools and give Microsoft and IBM some challenges. However, being an open platform, there will be some new entrepreneurs that will fill up this gaps well.

Microsoft – Extending from PC Desktop
Microsoft is trying very hard to extend its dominance on and from the PC desktop. The Apple and Android phones and tablets show that you don’t need the complexity of the PC to get things done. Windows8 is integrating phone types apps on the old windows. I am not sure you need to integrate them for the general users; may be for the developers for ease of development of apps. If any user find the phone or tablet apps are not powerful enough for their use, I don’t think anyone want to go into the Windows to get the things done. He could just look for and buy a better apps that can do the job. It any job cannot be done easily on a 4″ or 10″ screen, then go to the PC or Mac to do the job. The job is not for the tablet or phone. Microsoft is an incremental innovator as many have shared. They may not be the first but they have the track record to outdoing the first. eg IE over Netscape, Excel over Lotus 123, Word over Word-perfect etc. Can it do it again with Windows 8? It is a very long and hard catch-up for Microsoft and its partner like Nokia to do.

The Value of Social Connection and Network – Should Facebook join the war?

We don’t just go into the Cloud to get information and buy things. One of the killer apps of the internet is eMail. The greatest past time now for most people is chatting and connecting with other people. The leader of this Social Network is Facebook. I did not mention it in an earlier post of this because Facebook is not yet in the Tablet War. Does Facebook need to be into the hardware device as well? The common wisdom of the past tell us that hardware is a cut-throat commodity business and businesses are advised to go into software and services like IBM, Xerox etc. But recent stories show that Samsung, Apple and even Microsoft Windows 8 Surface are having great margin of 50%+. Samsung is have great success with its Android devices. So should Facebook go into the hardware game as well like Microsoft? Apple Steve Jobs is famous for integrating software, hardware and design. Google acquiring of Motorola Mobility may show that they also ascribe to Jobs’ view too.

The Advice – It all depends

My advise is that it all depends. It depends on where you want to play in the big digital Eco-system market place. It depends on your relative strengths with respect to the market you want to play in. Our strengths are not what we think but should be measured externally from the market, against our competitors and from the eyes of our customers. Our strength is not just because we can do it but rather we can do it better than others. It is easy for us but difficult for others.

Back to Facebook, for the time being at least, its business is social connection, the bigger the world the better for him. The more the devices that can access it the better. The keys then are for Facebook is to continually offer better social connect experience, new ways of non-intrusive and embedded ads, and define standard interfaces for all others, hardware or software vendors,  to connect to them. The greater the size of those who can access Facebook, the greater the size of the potential market, and with its large installed base, the greater is its ability to fend off the competitors like Google+.  There is perhaps no need to come into the hardware game unless there some new innovation that need that … but such devices is really against the spirit of social connection. Let others build the roads and bridges, the cars, boats and planes into your wonderful kingdom of best social connection experience.

Lim Liat (C) 9 Nov 2012 on a Windows8 machine.

Revision 2 10 Nov 2012.

The Superior Mindset of A Leader – The 4 Dimensional Thinking

A true leader thinks and reacts differently from the common people. When the people are in a panic and don’t know what to do, the leader stays calm and works out a course of action that is able to motivate others to go along with him. How is the mindset of a true leader different from the rest? This 4D, Four-Dimensional Thinking Framework show us how:

Here is the visual for 4D Thinking:

The Inner Circle of Vision & Execution

It begins with the inner circle of the 4D-Thinking framework. A leader must be good at ‘Visioning’ and also at ‘Execution’. Common business literature like to differentiate leaders and managers. They define leaders as the ones who are able to set the vision and goals and managers as the ones good at controlling and execution. A true leader must have both qualities of visioning and execution. He must be able to chart the course, the strategies, to arrive at the destination, i.e. achieve the targets. He must be able to execute the strategies through motivating, coaching and directing others. He must be able to monitor the progress and adapt his strategies to meet the changing environment and continue to steer the organization towards the established vision. So the inner circle is made up of the 4 steps of

  1. define the vision
  2. plan out the strategies – the popular term used now is called Design
  3. execute the strategies
  4. monitor and adapt to the changes to ensure continued movement towards the vision.

The Outer Circle of 4D – Height, Length, Breadth and Depth.

  1. Height or Positioning
  2. Length of Time & Distance
  3. Breadth of Mind and Heart
  4. Depth of Insights

1. Height or Positioning

A leader must be able to stand above the situation. He does not merely react like others but choose ‘Positivity Response‘ that is not only able to see the opportunities in the crisis but even be able to convert the threats to opportunities. He thinks above the line – i.e. to take charge rather than to blame others. He is able to be creative and encourage others to have hope and to move on.

2. Length of Time & Distance

A leader has 4 types of sights:

  1. Hind-sight that learn from the past successes and failures. He does not repeat the old mistakes. He builds knowledge bases that he could use to enhance his decision making.
  2. Far-sight to see not only the short term but beyond into the long term. He sees farther than others and is able to work out the implications and side-effects of his decision way into the future, 50 years, 100year and beyond.
  3. Fore-sight to see before what others could have seen. He defines the future before and for others.
  4. Radius(Circles) of Influence: He can see what are within his sphere of influence and what are beyond. He continues to work what he can influence to extend his sphere of influence. He does not let those outside his sphere of influence to upset him.

3. Breadth of Mind and Heart

Breadth of mind means open-minded, appreciating the different views of others, being able to listen and learn any time. He synergizes diversities rather than merely tolerate them.

He has a board-heart, a generosity that love and care for others. He develops others. He cares for right and wrong, fairness and is balanced minded, always taking into consideration the views and needs of multiple parties and coming out with innovative answers and win-wins solutions for all.  He see beyond himself, family, community and into the environment.

He has passion and the persistence to continue when others would have given up.

4. Depth of Insights

Most people just see the surface symptoms and miss out the root causes. A true leader find the root causes. He digs deep and wide to discover insights, patterns and principles. Hence, he can solve problems effectively without short and long-term side-effects

Leadership of the Whole Man

Man is tripartite being of body, mind(soul) and heart(spirit) and live in relationships to one another and to the universe. Any thinking and decision making should always have these 5 factors in mind. The 4D of Height, Length, Breadth and Depth can be apply across the factors of body, mind, heart, community/others and environment/universe. It would be a complex visual to draw and I hope you like my simplification of it as shown above. Will try to improve with time.

Lim Liat (C) 31 March 2012

(Update 4 April 2012) The Version 3.0 Chart:

For version 4 update  click here.

Rephrase A Problem Positively to Get Better Answers

The quick way to get better answers to your problem is to define it in a positive way.

We can learn good management lessons from watching Korean Serials.

In the serial, “福熙姐姐”, Fuxi was the CEO of a clothes factory. They have the problem of pilferage of buttons and other accessories. The management met to discuss how to solve the problem. Before I tell you their answer, what is the thing that you would do?

Typical answer is to have inspection of employees before they leave the factory. That was their initial suggestion. But they were concern about the implications. (This is teaching us to consider the emotional and social impact of our decisions). So they went home to think about it.

The came back with the answer:

“It is better to teach our employees to love our company than to tell them not to steal from the company”.

This is the teaching of Appreciative Inquiry, and one of the very important thing that I teach in my management and innovation classes.  Applying the “Invert” operator is a good practice to generate ideas. (see BVITS Innovative Thinking Method)

Always rephrase a problem stated in a negative way into that one that is positive.

So, change from “how to reduce employees turnover” into “how to increase employees love for the company”.

Rephrase the problem into a positive challenge open up the mind for more and better solutions than thinking in negative terms. One is to increase and we think of opportunities and the other is to stop and hence we think only of barriers.

I am very surprised to find it in a Korean Serial, but may be not. Many good Korean serials like Da Zhang Jing, Shan De Nu Wang etc have management principles in them.

Teaching life and management principles through movie and TV serials are very effective. They are the non-invasive and effortless way of learning. This leads to the 2nd principle of always communicate with a story to illustrate your point. Story touches the heart and not just the mind.

In summary, we learn three things:

  1. Rephrase the problem in positive terms to open your mind to get better answers.
  2. Use story to illustrate our ideas to touch the mind and heart of our audience.
  3. Always consider the emotional and social impact of our decisions.

One more thing, will you still implement an inspection system to catch the culprit? See Integrated View of the Wisdom of Chinese Classics.  Please shaer with me what you think.

Lim Liat (C) 9 March 2012