It’s hard to believe we are half way through 2017. It’s been a busy year so far. A year filled with new and returning clients, exciting projects, coast-to-coast research travel, social media engagement and the launch of our Empathy Camp™ program. Time certainly flies and, before you can say Happy 4th of July, you are scheduling end of year reviews and planning your 2018 goals and business objectives. With so much happening it can sometimes be difficult to see the forest for all those darn trees (aka deadlines, details, meetings) set in your path!

Despite the whirlwind of business as usual and despite the appreciation you have for all those trees requiring your pruning, fertilizing and occasionally chopping down. well, it is important to pause and reflect and, yes, maybe even attend an industry conference to learn and be inspired by fresh perspectives and new ideas. In keeping with the analogy of forests and trees, I view a good conference as a trip to the nursery where I find new species of trees. Trees which may provide richer shade and more lovely foliage, attract different fauna and bring an interesting dimension to my landscaping J And, as my colleague Robin recently shared in her blog post reflecting on her time at the VMA Conference, we have to travel outside our cubicle comfort zone and expose ourselves to the real world. New trees, everyone! New trees!

Taking a break to participate in continuous learning can be viewed as a luxury and, of course, we all want some type of discernable ROI for time spent away from revenue building activities. This year’s OmniShopper conference did not disappoint. With a stellar line-up of shopper marketing and insights heavy hitters and best-selling authors, OmniShopper provided a lot of ROI in the form of inspiration on ways to further advance and enhance our shopper insight and path to purchase efforts and deliverables. For those of you who were not able to attend the event, here are just a couple of highlights that made me take notice. I give you a few branches from the new trees I discovered.

The Disruption Dilemma

Peter Horst, former Hershey CMO, spoke about marketing challenges in the Trump era. Far from a political commentary, Horst pointed to trends of deteriorating trust in systems, brands and institutions and a further fracturing of society. In this environment, big brands are heavily scrutinized and, more than ever before, are taken to task when perceived to act inauthentically or unscrupulously. New players and “small batch” start-ups are making headway. Meanwhile, big brands continue to battle, striving to appeal to the broadest set of consumers and spurred on to disrupt, get noticed and remain relevant. But, is disruption enough? How do you disrupt at the risk of alienating a portion of your target audience? The flip side is risking relevance and growth by staying in the safe zone of watered down messaging and ‘me too’ marketing. Horst addresses this Sophie’s Choice dilemma by emphasizing the need for a deeper understanding of your brand’s core shopper. Brands must find their core … their base … and get to know their needs, motivations, influencers and concerns beyond sales metrics and demographics. Brands can then see themselves through the eyes of their shoppers and, that reflection back, can inform how, when, where and why they can disrupt effectively and in keeping with their own authentic voice and tone.

Disruption, without substance and strategy is merely noise and window dressing.

What does your brand stand for and how do your core shoppers perceive your disruption in the marketplace? Is it bluster or does it ring true to your DNA and unique set of values?

Mapping the Journey Experience To Identify Signature Moments

Mapping the customer journey

Mapping the customer journey

Path to purchase and decision hierarchy mapping has given way to customer journey experiences in an omni channel world. Insights leaders from Best Buy, Gap and VF Corp. all spoke, in different ways, about the power of customers’ journey experience and its role in shaping a brand, a service, or a retailer’s distinctiveness, relevance and recognition over time.  Whereas Horst’s challenge for brands was to know thy customer lest your disruption ring false, these distinguished speakers urged retailers and brands to know themselves better by plumbing the depths of all the ways and means in which customers engage and interact. These journey experiences capture the functional but go far beyond to define the critical moments when a customer can choose a different path, walk away or reconsider. It also goes beyond brick and mortar to include digital engagement in the moments of consideration, purchase and post-purchase.

Best Buy’s lead of customer experience, Kate Kompelien, starts the journey experience design process by first isolating the mindset of the shopper in the form of a focused segment or persona. Next, this mindset is studied from both a behavioral and attitudinal lens. An inventory is made of critical moments and any associated pain points and then followed by a prioritization and identification of what activities, communication and processes need to be innovated against. If it sounds eerily similar to building consumer decision trees or journey maps, well, it does bear a strong resemblance. However, where decision trees and journey maps stop, the customer journey experience work goes beyond to build out a pipeline of innovation around the moments and mindsets most critical to reinforcing loyalty.

Soon Yu, former Global VP of Innovation at VF Corporation

Soon Yu, former Global VP of Innovation at VF Corporation

Soon Yu, former Global VP of Innovation at VF Corporation, refers to the customer experience as the most important in your brand gaining icon status. For him, the critical moments are framed up as “signature moments” distinguishing your brand from all others. You don’t have to be a big brand to map and prioritize this experience journey and innovate around it.

What is your signature moment? What makes your brand, your service experience, distinct? What has the potential to make you iconic?

If you don’t yet know, perhaps a customer journey experience journey should be in your future.

And, Even More New Trees

Original - Adam Grant

Original - Adam Grant

Many more noteworthy topics were shared including Buzzfeed’s Edwin Wong’s presentation on decoding culture and his guidance to stop targeting and start understanding. Wong made a case for the end of demographics, the evolution of psychographics and the rise of the “power of one” in shaping consumer culture. As a qualitative practitioner, this was music to my ears. We have long been advocates of the strength an individual’s story has to influence brand building and innovation. One person can provide that previously hidden ah-ha and growth unlocking insight and, although useful to verify and measure, one does not need mega sample sizes to get to a unique and ownable, growth idea. That can come from a single person and their life and circumstances.

Author Adam Grant offered advice from his new book, The Originals, as he touched on non-conformity and it’s link to increased creative output.

Non-conformists, or “originals,” have more bad ideas because they simply have MORE ideas. Most are stinkers. But, those who get help in the form of feedback have been able to take their best ideas and turn them into big wins. While we may not all be “originals” as Grant defines them, we can practice his tenants of grounding our ideas in the familiar, avoiding group think, embracing criticism and pitching to the right audience. A lot of leadership lessons to be had and I’d highly recommend picking up Grant’s book to read for yourself.

So, you have your homework. Read Grant’s book and find a new forest with new trees in the form of external thinkers and fresh perspectives. Get out of your cubicle comfort zone and see what inspires you among the seedlings of insight available to you. The ROI you find may be the return of inspiration to push your brand and business in new and improved directions.

Tell us about what inspires you and the last, best idea you’ve struck upon while getting out of your office. Connect with us on FacebookLinkedInTwitter or Instagram.