Jennifer B. Davis
I have come to understand that life is all about managing expectations. Not setting them. Not meeting them. Managing them. It is futile to believe you can control the expectations of others. You may not even meet them (although things may come together and you blow them out of the water). What you can do, is set your own realistic expectations, communicate early and often with those who are affected, and then deliver with the goal of building a long-term, trusting relationship. The trust part is critical, as it is a good check-and-balance to make sure your expectations are informed by the requirements, assumptions, and standards of those who are depending on you. We often get into trouble that could have been easily avoided if we had just asked our stakeholders what they wanted to accomplish and then worked those into the goals what were set and accomplished.
Jennifer B. Davis

"Managing and innovation did not always fit comfortably together. That's not surprising. Managers are people who like order. They like forecasts to come out as planned. In fact, managers are often judged on how much order they produce. Innovation, on the other hand, is often a disorderly process. Many times, perhaps most times, innovation does not turn out as planned. As a result, there is tension between managers and innovation."
-- Attributed to Lewis Lehro, about the first years at 3M

So, how do leaders foster an environment of innovation, while still maintaining the predictability that may be required from the investment community and other stakeholders? Robert Park, a business analyst with Telus, suggests the solution is iteration. Small steps allow you to accurately scope work, "change with political winds when necessary," and make "little breakthroughs." This approach requires a high degree of flexibility and "small visions" instead of a single "grand vision." This is in contrast to what many claim as the key to successful innovation projects: a strong leader and a clear, shared purpose. What has your experience been?

Jennifer B. Davis
Private-labeled products in specialized, captive distribution channels is not something new. Every grocery store has invested significantly to reposition their "generic" products in recent years to premium offerings. Outfits like Trader Joe's have taken that to an extreme and carry mostly private-labeled products. Certainly the buying power of a national grocery store chain can open some doors at suppliers and make private-label products possible. What about private labeled products for the rest of us?

Miami-based Vuru is selling nutritional supplements in personalized daily packs, packing them in cool foil wrappers. Pick any combination of their 2,000 name brand supplements and vitamins and voila! The cool thing to me was that Vuru operates an affiliate program targeting doctors, nutrionists, and others that want to create personalied supplement programs for their patients/clients. What if this concept was taken further and these items could have the brand name of the nutrition clinic on them, instead of Vuru. What if Vuru's pre-selected mixes (with names like "Women's Yoga Pack" and "The UrbanDaddy Pack") could be private labeled to other brands or "celebrities." You could market "Josh's Secret Formula" or an marathon training club could offer it's members supplements to assist in training. The appeal is the ability to have the scale of thousands of micro-sales-channels all leveraging the same backend operations infrastructure.

There are a host of "standard" products that could be marketed in these three ways: 1) personalized mixes for personal use, 2) mixes assembled by one person for purchase by another customer, and 3) mixes sold by third parties, under their own brand. Some of these are listed here:

Bottled wine sold under a private label in a restaurant or bar with the chef's special mix of Cab and Zin. Mosaic tile mixes selected by mom-and-pop home improvement stores and sold at retail and regional home fairs. Custom mixes of M&M colors (add in the custom imprinting for a double-win) created by school PTAs for fundraising. Paint color palettes selected and "renamed" by designers who market to their clients and their friends (why should Gretchen at Devine Color have all the fun?).

This is yet another way that the "small" guy can be enabled to look very big and provide a huge degree of value to their customers based on their knowledge of the market, not their knowledge of supply chain, logistics, and manufacturing operations.
Jennifer B. Davis
Research is now showing that the top reason email subscribers give for opening and engaging with an email from a company was "prior value." So, if a subscriber received value from a previous email from a company, they are more likely to open the next. I was introduced to a new term/old concept today from Chris Baggott (who got it from Stephanie Miller of Return Path). Although this seems pretty elementary, its implications, which extend well beyond email marketing, are profound: you have to give value away before customers will be marketed to. To use an antiquitated metaphor, businesses must "prime the pump" to have marketing efforts (especially personalized, targeted marketing efforts) take hold. The virtuous cycle has to start somewhere.

Some companies provide prior the "sale" by offering educational content on their websites, free trials, "betas" of new software tools, cache (ie, invitation only gmail accounts), or by being something that the readers aspire to (either because of a strong brand, a fresh style, or irreverant, provocative content that is "right on" to your target audience). Seth Godin evangelized related concepts as Permission Marketing, but marketers need not have elaborate opt-in programs or sophisticated systems to utilize this concept. How often have companies gone to a trade show, published a brochure, or went on a sales call with the express purpose of creating value for the customer, so that they would get a second conversation, and a third? Like the samples put out in grocery stores, what value are you providing to prime the pump?

Picture courtesy of