Farnaz on Featured, New World Strategies

Bring Strategy & Vision to Life – 6 steps to get started

Why do so many companies and entrepreneurs with great products and services fail to deliver success?  Is it lack of strategy and vision—or lack of knowing how to “execute” a strategic vision in the marketplace?  Hint:  maybe both.

Fast Food companies offer the same products with incremental differences in price and ingredients.  Ethnic restaurants offer mainstream brand names and menu items that have nothing to do with their unique positioning.  (I’m sure Dallas residents have seen quite a few Persian restaurants with Italian brand name, signage and décor.)  Social media agencies and entrepreneurs all call themselves social media experts.  Which one should we believe or prefer?  Media companies chase after the same story and sensationalism, so flipping through new channels feels like watching reruns.  Even airline companies, such as Delta, promote trust and integrity as their brand values, with no concept on how to execute these values.

We’ve been numbed to brand promises never kept or delivered.   Many companies claim and promise universal values such as, trust, honesty and integrity …. But which one is delivering and how?  Challenge is lack of decisiveness and know-how on the execution of these values in branding messages.  Values stem from our beliefs, and our beliefs grow from what we see, hear and experience.  It’s all about execution and delivery.

No doubt, future growth and profitability will come from a different way of doing business in the New World Marketplace.  Here are 6 easy steps to get you started:

1.  Define your strategic differentiation

Strategy is not about being the best, whether it’s operations excellence or best practices.  Strategy is about being different.  Strategy is just as much about what not to do as it is about what to do. It’s a combination of benefits and trade-offs that your brand offers, differentiating you from the competing alternatives in the marketplace.  Trade-offs are essential to strategy.  They create the need for choice and purposefully limit what your company offers in order to have a clear differentiation and competitive advantage.

2.  Determine your strategic priorities

Trying to be all to everyone is like being nothing to no one.  Are you trying to promise and deliver efficiency, high quality, low price, innovation, superb customer service, high profile/image and fastest to market—all at the same time?  Can you?  Focus and prioritize your strategic execution.  High-performance companies tend to focus on one or two primary strategic priorities, and they align their culture to support them.

3.  Align company culture with strategy

Your company culture must be aligned and fully focused on your strategic priorities.  Achieving and sustaining this alignment long term is the biggest challenge most organizations face in achieving business success.  When culture and strategy align, both people and functions work toward a common goal and purpose.  Definition:  Company culture is a set of shared values, beliefs, causes, assumptions and behaviors that reflect how a business strategy is executed.  The key to effective execution is having everyone in your organization internalize strategy in their daily thinking, actions and behaviors.

4.  Choose your customers

Many companies need to re-evaluate their existing target customers, based on the 3 major macro trends in The New World Marketplace.  More importantly, remember that strategy is about which customers and which needs.  You can not effectively communicate to your changing customers, unless you carefully choose which customers you can deliver and execute specific needs to.

5.  Align your company values with your chosen target customers

Businesses must appeal to the values that their target customers hold dear, and they must also know how to express those values in branding messages.  This means aligning your values with those of your chosen customers, believe in what they believe in.  I call this marketing to the inside not outside of the customers.  Customers don’t just buy what you do, but why you do it. Most companies know what and how to sell…but they don’t know why.  Like it or not, customers decisions are emotional, and you must engage them on an emotional level to change their minds and behaviors.  This is a different way to interpret reality than rational levers of facts and features.   Pick and choose the emotional values that you can and know how to truly deliver on, and then communicate it.

6.  Communicate

This is, and should be, the last phase of strategic execution.  More often than not, companies of all sizes jump to the communication phase without completing the prerequisite steps.  Nothing hurts the company performance more than communicating a branding message that is not consistent with your strategic differentiation and priorities.   Bringing your strategic vision to life in your communication tactics is not easy.  If you don’t know how, you should consult with an expert and make the best use of your marketing dollars.  Otherwise, you’re confusing your customers while your competitors are getting it right.

 

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Home Sweet Home – recent Gen Y trends

Generation Y has come of age with the Harry Potter franchise.  While on the surface, it would appear to be just an epic fantasy, to the generation, it means so much more.  The themes of standing up for your beliefs, distrust of those in power, equality for all races and genders, as well as overcoming all obstacles through the actions of a few people, are indicative of Gen Y’s mindset.  Harry Potter himself is a symbol of this generation, embodying all the characteristics they aspire to.

In my book, The New World Marketplace, I get in to details of the new values and ideological power of the youth culture.  With a population estimated at 72 million, making up roughly 26% of the population, Gen Y is the most educated, diverse, tech savvy, optimistic yet disappointed, and soon to be the largest American generation–more than 3 times the size of Gen X.  They have greater influence on cultural evolution than previous generation, with unique needs to connect and relate on an individual basis versus trying to fit into a “social norm.”

I explained the concept of “delaying adulthood” in both my book, and also my blog, Do You Really Know 20-somethings?  Different studies have shown a range of 5-7 years of delay in reaching the five milestones to adulthood–completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child.  I just read the most recent data by Pew Research survey that showed 24% of adults 18-34 moved back in with their parents in recent years because of economic conditions.  I wondered why my previous research showed 40%–then, I realized that the vast majority of them never moved out in the first place. So here’s the latest numbers of young adults living with parents, according to the March 2012 survey by Pew Research:

  • 39% of all young adults
  • 53% of 18-24
  • 41% of 25-29
  • 17% of 30-34

This poses a big marketing twist for companies trying to reach this generation.  How should branding messages to these multi-generational households look and feel like?  The challenge is that these young adults who moved back in with parents because of economic necessities don’t all have a favorable outlook, although most do.  But majority of them contribute to household expenses in one form or another.  This changes the picture of parental financial support altogether.

What’s even more interesting is that this generation was raised in an era where the divorce rate was high, brief marriages were the norm and numerous partners was acceptable.  While this has been raised as a major issue for many social experts as it relates to commitment, it has also resulted in this generation being very culturally liberal.

Ask yourself if your company is making certain assumptions and stereotypes when it comes to branding messages toward Gen Y.  Do those messages contain personal growth, relationships, causes, beliefs, values and a sense of purpose?  Gen Y is transforming business and branding norms.  Connections, contacts, friends or fans, word of mouth, yelp reviews, and Facebook likes may end up mattering more than just a great Super Bowl Ad.

 

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50 is the new 30

Have you heard this, or seen this on t-shirts and bumper stickers?  It’s true.  I’m turning 50 this summer, so I’m inspired to write a blog about what this really means.  People flatter me all the time by saying I don’t look my age.  But I’m not the only one.  Turning 50, for many, have made it possible to live an active, healthy, productive lifestyle.  This is a game changer for many businesses that have been stuck with their 18-49 target planning.  And here’s why….

In my 2012 trend predictions blog, I noted that with baby boomers staying younger and more fit, expect to see a higher % of ad dollars for them.  There is more.  Boomers 50+ have unique life stage milestones that provide them with the means to splurge more on bigger-ticket items—changing jobs, starting a new business (yes, thank you very much), children going off to college or getting married, adopting a healthier lifestyle, changing homes,  developing new hobbies, discovering new habits, taking more trips, joining the digital/mobile way of living, enrolling in weight loss programs, becoming care givers to parents or even a spouse.  This is more than just going through a mid-life crisis of ditching the spouse and buying a motorcycle/sports car, or jumping out of an airplane.

Maybe it’s just about forgetting to get and feel older.  For women, in particular, it’s about saying good bye to invisibility and getting traded in for the younger.  I think 35 to 60 is where it all comes together for women with elegant maturity, spiritual wisdom and a balanced outlook on inner and outer beauty.

This mid-life transition, once a very exhausting and confusing life stage, is now a midpoint to another adult life that can easily last 30 to 40 years more, thanks to medical science coupled with holistic herbal approach, greener/healthier forms and diet, active lifestyle, and living a more meaningful life in pursue of happiness beyond a paycheck and financial planning.  These are rapid cultural shifts with a completely different set of needs and values.  Our pop culture, from actresses and TV personalities to business leaders and writers, is already redefining 50.

Companies who understand the dynamics of this new milestone and negate existing stereotypes will be able to intelligently develop products and services that allow this new 50+ target maximize the upside of their lives, and will win in the New World Marketplace.

So to all friends:  let’s celebrate the new 50 and start redefining our culture.

PS—My pre-release party and book signing event is scheduled for Wednesday, April 18thClick here for the details.

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Leadership when pinched: Redefining Power

We are living in a business world of downward forecasts, slipping GDP growth, shrinking middle class, declining consumer confidence and spending, erratic stock market, and…yes…financial earthquake.  And yet, behaviors and mindsets are all the same.  Most economists don’t forecast an improvement until 2018.  What should leaders do in a time when everyone is pinched so hard?  How do we shape the path forward?

I attended a leadership seminar earlier this year in Atlanta, and was amazed by how all speakers were saying the same things for years with slightly different terminologies.  The new buzz word in the business world is influential leadership.  While that’s good, it lacks the fundamental shift that we need in our thought process and actions.

A few thought leaders have touched on the high need for “feminine values” and “soft powers”, but none of them clearly defined these terms that seem to be loaded with polarizing reactions. That’s why I have developed emotional and cultural frameworks for my consulting business, to steer away from gender stereotyping of these critical business and leadership models.  This will be explained in details in my book, but I’d like to share a few highlights with my loyal readers.

Riane Eisler in her book “The Chalice & The Blade” explains a remarkable Cultural Transformation theory with two very different social models:  Dominator and Partnership.  The Dominator model is the ranking of one half of humanity over the other.  The Partnership model is based on the principle of linking rather than ranking.  Feminine values are associated with creation, life generating nurturing powers and giving – versus taking, conquest and domination that are often associated with masculine values.  This is not the battle of the sexes or genders, for we all know not even in our male dominated world not all women are peaceful, giving and nurturing and many men are.  I am referring to human values that have become a business and social imperative in our current economic climate.

As both technology and society have grown more complex, the survival has become increasingly dependant on the direction of cultural evolution. The virtual worldwide web reveals both possibilities and cultural shadows.  It reveals collaborations and alliances as well as exposing famine terror and epidemic greed leading to global financial collapse.  As a result, we’ve seen a step backward to our defensive needs (food, safety, basic living essentials) instead of shifting to higher needs of growth, actualization and our interconnectedness with all of humanity. It’s time to consciously and collectively choose our own cultural evolutionary path.

Sounds too woo woo or too soft?  Not really.  The need to control and dominate is a feeling of powerlessness…control or be controlled.  I believe it is time to redefine power as less need to limit or control other and define power as affiliation, linking and partnership. That means leaving behind the hard, conquest and domination oriented values.  Replacing conformity and uniformity with individuality and diversity.  Focusing more on relationships than on hierarchies.  Balancing of intuition with reason and logic.  Balancing competition and cooperation.  Making conflict productive rather than destructive.  Embracing equality, justice, freedom, openness, trust, honesty and integrity.  A New World leader ought to possess all this power, and must know that it is time for a partnership society where neither half of humanity is ranked over the other, nor inclusion equated with inferiority or superiority.

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A Different Look at Gen Y

If I was born from 1982 to somewhere close to 2000, I’d be feeling pretty unique and awesome by now.  Let’s look at some Gen Y characteristics that are stereotyped:  idealistic and socially conscious, confident, ambitious, achievement-and-team-oriented, authenticity seekers, attention cravers, culturally liberal, virtual relationships, engage or loose me, ask and guide me, immersed in the digital world from an early age….  This is known to be a generation of self-confident optimists due to years of helicopter parenting and unconditional positive reinforcement from work-centric and goal-oriented Baby Boomer parents who over-compensated for how tough they had it.

While all that may be true, when was the last time we asked a Hispanic, African American, Asian or multiracial Gen Y if these so-called core traits apply to them?  Did they have helicopter parents hover reassuringly above them?  I’m not convinced that socio-economic groups other than white affluent teenagers display the same Gen Y attributes we read about.  It’s not that multi-and-cross-cultural parents don’t want to treat their kids as special, but they often don’t have the social and cultural capital, the time and resources to do it.

Since the 2000 Census allowed people to select more than one racial group, Gen Ys have asserted their rights to have all their heritages respected, counted and acknowledged. 2010 Census showed 32% growth in multiracial category from 2000, and on track to grow another 25%.

I think we can look for cross-cultural commonalities and find these shared values and characteristics:

  • Yes, first era of reality TV, rise of dot-com, virtual relationships
  • Change is mandatory, make it meaningful
  • Demand for authenticity and honesty
  • Culturally liberal, color and gender neutral if it weren’t for parents influence & 9/11
  • Family centric with much closer relationship with parents, unlike the “individualistic” Gen X’ers
  • Delaying some rites of passage into adulthood (for more on this, click here)
  • Love flexibility and work-life-balance even more than Gen X’ers
  • So, yes, perceived as a bit lazy by workaholic Boomers
  • Less employed than any other generation due to the economic situation starting up in
  • More educated, purchasing power rivals that of the Boomers
  • Leverage the digital world to connect, engage & motivate – but want it personal & real
  • Freedom, equality, opportunity, inspiration & honesty are cross-cultural shared values

How do you think all this will re-define Corporate America as Baby Boomers start to retire?  You’d have to be willing to make a difference to make a living.  Think of Lady GaGa and her message of “be who you are”, and Black Eye Peas, a group as multi-culti as you can get.  Cross-cultural messaging through commonalities works.  Start now.

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Freedom Is A Shared Cross-Cultural Value

I was thinking about the spirit of 4th of July celebration this past weekend. An American holiday to commemorate declaration of independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain that was made on July 4, 1776.  To me, it represents spirit’s deep desire for freedom and self-expression.  I love Benjamin Franklin’s quote, “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

I took some time to reflect on what all this means in the multicultural society that we live in, where “we” is getting trickier to define in terms of race, ethnicity and collective identity.  Is it “freedom of,” “freedom from,” or “freedom to”?  It’s certainly not about every man, woman, and child for himself or herself.  But it is the right to think, believe, value, speak, worship, and behave….freedom to choose….so long as it does not infringe on another person’s freedom.  It is a shared value, securing to everyone an equal opportunity for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

In a multicultural society, this typically means both celebrating the uniqueness of each culture and navigating relationships with cultural differences.  I think multiculturalism should neither be a demand for special rights for minorities, nor a threat to protecting one’s own cultural identity and safety.  It is a phenomenon of resolving differences and building on commonalities based on values of freedom, trust, respect, equality, dignity, open mindedness and mutual happiness.

Shared values are much more important in any relationship than skin color or demographics.  Good, happy relationships – personal and professional – have a lot in common across all cultures, and challenges are all the same as well.  To read the full article on how to make multi-and-cross-cultural relationships work, click here.

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