Book Report: Co-Create

co-create-cover“So how do you get on the radar of someone who may not even be in the market for the value you offer? The only strategy you can actually control at this point is to ‘listen louder’ to identify when an individual initially enters the discovery phase. What can you do to create inbound inquiries? What can your organization do to invest in ways to be more visible, more ‘findable’ by individuals? This is the ideal opportunity for you to create compelling content, highly personalized and relevant to your target audience. Help them learn and discover new approaches, challenge their assumptions, but above all, lend a hand in their discovery process.” (Co-Create)

Title: Co-Create – How Your Business Will Profit from Innovative and Strategic Collaboration

Author: David Nour

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Publication Date: 2017

Origin/Intention: There are two reasons why I picked up Co-Create: first, I run a marketing agency, and my projects can involve a lot of collaboration – so I wanted to pick up some tips, tricks, strategies, etc. that I can apply in my own business; second, by learning those tips, tricks, strategies, etc., I’ll be in a better position to help my clients with new ideas and strategies. Double-win!

Summary: In Co-Create, David Nour promotes the benefits of, “a social approach to creating future value with multiple strategic relationships.”

Nour explains in the Introduction that, “Co-Creation can lead to attracting and retaining exceptional talent; it can lead to a great new product design or an unexpected path to market. By adopting Co-Creation as your business model, you’ll learn to think and lead differently – and elevate yourself, your team, and your organization above the current market noise.”

The chapters that follow each focus on a particular aspect of Co-Creation (the title of each is sufficient to summarize), and take us through the logical progression we should follow if we choose to adopt a co-creation approach to business:

  • Co-Create In: Introspection Leads to Right Action
  • Co-Create Together: Strategic Relationships
  • Co-Create Through: The Stages of the Customer Journey
  • Co-Create Ahead: Leading Through Provocation
  • Co-Create Upward: The Spiral of Growth
  • Co-Create Away: Creating Exceptional Experiences and Organizations

The final content chapter, The Co-Create Canvas, is a walkthrough of a practical activity to map out strategy collaborative co-creation initiatives.

Note that Nour has also made available a PDF resource to accompany the book.

My Take: Overall I’m lukewarm on Co-Create; there’s some good stuff in there, but also some stuff that puts me off (admittedly, could simply be personal preference).

I was a bit concerned really early on, when Nour cited an Atlanta-based megachurch as an example, and a few pages later when he seemed to take a dig at government regulations (not the last potential dig he’d work in there), and his frequent “Nourcabulary” explanations – while helpful, I suppose – just rubbed me the wrong way (I mean, “Nourcabulary” doesn’t even sound like “vocabulary”…if his name was “Mo”, then it would work). I’ve also never been a fan of people trademarking the heck out of their stuff, and Nour seems to like to do that.

Are these potentially minor points? Sure. But the thing is, there wasn’t anything sensational in the rest of the book to offset my minor annoyances.

Partly, it could be that his concepts aren’t really new to me…they’re things I figured out myself, or have come across elsewhere, so I just don’t think there’s anything groundbreaking in here. It’s all about working together with customers, partners, team members, and so on, to maximize the value delivered…which, I mean, yeah…it’s a good idea to do that.

With that out of the way, here are some things I liked:

  • Nour emphasizes listening: to people, to the market, to customers, to everyone… We should all do more listening, otherwise we end up taking an inside-out approach
  • He had some good doses of tough love, like, “Customers – including business-to-business clients – might be overjoyed with what you offer them today, but they will leave you tomorrow if a disruptive competitor can offer them superior outcomes.”
  • He’s an advocate of visionary leadership, not incremental half-assery
  • He talks about the Jerry Maguire business model: I appreciate both the uncomplicated reference, and the support for doing great work for clients without overly worrying about making sure your business grows into a giant
  • Nour provides handy summaries and practical activities to put the lessons to work, which helps with moving from theory to practice

In fact, when I sat down to actually write up this report, I was genuinely surprised how much stuff I’d marked. Maybe it was just too long of a book for some relatively uncontroversial and straightforward ideas…?

Upon reflection, I think my main take-away from Co-Create is Nour’s neat six-part model for the customer experience journey. In fact, I wrote about some implications and take-aways over on my company’s blog. And hey, that’s more than I’ve taken away from a lot of books =D

I guess I’ll concede that there’s some decent stuff in here, especially for people in traditional businesses and industries that have resisted change.

Read This Book If: …You’re looking for ways to jumpstart your business and can think of a few potential collaborators (outside of your company) interested in some mutually beneficial fun.

Notes and Quotes

Introduction

“Think transformation, not incrementalism. ‘Doing things better’ is incrementalism. Real transformation is about doing things differently.”

  • p15 lists “five key components differentiating the organizations that are successful in transforming themselves from the ones that struggle in the present or see a cliff dead ahead.”. Component number three reminds me of what I term predictable mediocrity – the tendency or comfort that comes with just doing the same thing, and from which I see far too many leaders and organizations suffering: “Think transformation, not incrementalism. ‘Doing things better’ is incrementalism. Real transformation is about doing things differently.”
  • In that same list, component number five, Metrics and Compensation, also hits home for my experience: “How often do we see an organization incentivizing or compensating one set of behaviors but demanding a completely different set? Metrics and compensation are too often relics of past priorities, disconnected from the results required for success today, much less tomorrow.”

Metrics and compensation are too often relics of past priorities, disconnected from the results required for success today, much less tomorrow.

Co-Create In: Introspection Leads to Right Action

“Organizational agility requires leaders who balance learning with performing, welcome prudent risk-taking, and do not fear failure or tolerate infighting.”

  • p31; ah, how many times have I preached the power of focus? “Market Gravity is a force created between an organization and its target stakeholders. As such, intentional focus on fewer, more targeted relationships is dramatically more critical and effective than trying to appease the masses.”
  • p33: “Customers – including business-to-business clients – might be overjoyed with what you offer them today, but they will leave you tomorrow if a disruptive competitor can offer them superior outcomes.”
  • p43, speaking of Kevin Plank (Founder and CEO of Under Armour), and in the context of some mobile app companies and technologies that Under Armour acquired: “Plank sees the mobile app acquisitions as a multipronged approach. He understands that purposeful leaders must manage the present while inventing their future.”

“Purposeful leaders must manage the present while inventing their future.”

  • p47, speaking of contextual intelligence, which Nour defines on p44 as “When you combine situational awareness with the ability to apply intuition to sense and respond to trends, you understand events in a way that enables more informed decisions and more effective action in varied, changing, and uncertain conditions”: “Contextual intelligence applies across the board, from positioning a brand, to the execution of its value delivery, to closing the loop with analysis of insightful data. It’s a steady process of course correction, typically in response to a market trend or a competitive peer. Contextual intelligence helps leaders interpret market signals, partner input, and customer feedback in their respective contexts and then take appropriate action.”
  • p49, as part of the chapter summary: “Organizational agility requires leaders who balance learning with performing, welcome prudent risk-taking, and do not fear failure or tolerate infighting.”

Co-Create Together: Adaptive Innovation

“I’m amazed at how often needs are ignored. Why does that customer go to somebody else? Because they need something and their primary vendor either doesn’t get it, or can’t do it, or can’t do it well.”

  • p51 lists four worthwhile objectives, in the context of adaptive innovation: “1. Separating signal from noise by listening closely to your environment; 2. Identifying faint market signals; 3. Rapidly validating critical assumptions; and 4. Rolling out pilots and prototypes rather than full-blown launches.”
  • p57 touches on the importance of having conversations that extend your senses, and listening to the input that comes from others: “Adaptive innovation requires ongoing conversations with those you strategically partner with. These people function as your signal scouts – those who are at the edge of your sphere who can detect faint signs before they come over your horizon. If you have these relationships, both across the distribution partners who make up your value chain and also across multiple industries, you inoculate your innovators against groupthink. You minimize time lost on ideas that are unlikely to gain critical traction in the marketplace.”
  • p59 cautions that, “disruption often comes from an unknown or an underestimated competitor.”
  • p64: “Behind your engine for listening louder and filtering faint signals, there needs to be a systematic process, the metaphorical equivalent of an assembly line, where you verify, validate, or void those critical assumptions.”
  • p64, on verifying: “Basically, you need to fact-check your information.”
  • p64, on validating: “Validation is proving that you are framing the right question. Validating is applying rigorous processes to ensure that you are not misunderstanding or misinterpreting the facts you verified, and that they are relevant to your adaptive innovation.”
  • p64, on voiding: “You must find and abandon flawed assumptions. This step assumes that some of your assumptions are flawed, and gets them out of the mix.”
  • p69…I love this section title: “Too often, small minds squash big ideas.”

“Too often, small minds squash big ideas.”

  • p72: “Leaders need to understand that prototyping is a crucial part of the adaptive innovation process. You want to get to the pilot-and-prototype stage quickly, but once you are there, you do not want to hurry.”
  • p73, quoting Peter Drucker: “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”
  • p74, akin to the difference between inside-out and outside-in thinking: “Far too many strategists segment their market based on their company’s capabilities, falsely assuming that their capabilities are a good fit for market demands.” What’s a better alternative? “The success of adaptive innovation is grounded in needs-based segmentation, the process of separating potential customers into smaller, more precisely defined groups based on fundamentally understanding the needs of an end user, not some characteristics or traits that describe him or her.”
  • p77, in a section entitled An Accurate View of Customers from Sequestered Data is Impossible: “Needs-based segmentation helps companies identify a group of customers with a unique set of unmet needs, and can even identify to what degree those needs are unmet. I’m amazed at how often needs are ignored. Why does that customer go to somebody else? Because they need something and their primary vendor either doesn’t get it, or can’t do it, or can’t do it well.”

Co-Create Forward: Strategic Relationships

“When your organization treats every stakeholder as a customer, your behavior has to become more relationship centric.”

  • p80, something that’s come up in my consulting/agency work: “The concept of ‘customer’ includes everyone who experiences the value your organization generates. That means employees, suppliers, investors, and media contacts, in addition to traditional consumers… When your organization treats every stakeholder as a customer, your behavior has to become more relationship centric.”
  • p83, another great section headline: “Your Brand Identity is Beyond Your Control”, followed up with: “Brand reputation today is determined largely by what other people are saying about you.” Related: I’ve mused about reputations before.
  • p85 quotes a stat that appears all over the place, and that isn’t quite what it seems: “For the past several years, there has been a bit of conventional wisdom circulating that the average B2B buyer is 57 percent of the way through the buying journey before ever engaging with a vendor sales rep.” I was happy to read this sobering truth, as most places just cite the stat and then move on to a convenient conclusion or implication, “However, this magical 57 figure, while accurate, represents the average aggregate trend of all buyer behavior. The key to not mistaking factoids for actual fats is knowing your buyer.”
  • p88, which is something I express to clients when I talk about the importance of consistent messaging and the need for a Messaging Guide: “Your stakeholders assemble their understanding of your brand from the bits of information they take in from a wide variety of sources.” It’s important that all those sources combine to tell a consistent, complete story. Nour goes on to say that, “Finance, operations, innovation, marketing, human capital, compliance – any division, or all, can and will have an impact on the brand narrative.” I’m quite proud that a couple of clients have mentioned to me that they use the Messaging Guide I provided as an important onboarding resource, to get new hires in any role on-message quickly.
  • p92, reminiscent of those articles about the evolving expectations of a CMO: “The leader who succeeds in the evolving CMO’s role will be a master of data application for marketing automation, measuring performance, and guiding tomorrow’s marketing strategy. Customers want a brand to look and feel the same whether they see it in an ad, kiosk, point of sale, or on a mobile device.”
  • p107: “The Co-Creation of value depends on three key attributes: 1. Focusing on needs-based segmentation of key stakeholders; 2. Prioritizing effective communications through alignment of signals being sent with signals being received; 3. Replacing ‘pitching’ with genuine dialogue, facilitated with conversation starters.”

Co-Create Through: The Stages of the Customer Experience Journey

“The six stage of the Customer Experience Journey are awareness, discovery and evaluation; leading to purchase, usage, and again, evaluation.”

  • p113, yup…why don’t more leaders realize this truth? “Customer retention – not acquisition – is the most sustainable source of business growth.”
  • p114: “When your focus is on retention, your strategy becomes one of providing people with the support they need at each stage of their journey, so that they stay with you – not just through loyalty, but through an increasing sense that your best interests and theirs are bound up together.”
  • p121: “So how do you get on the radar of someone who may not even be in the market for the value you offer? The only strategy you can actually control at this point is to ‘listen louder’ to identify when an individual initially enters the discovery phase. What can you do to create inbound inquiries? What can your organization do to invest in ways to be more visible, more ‘findable’ by individuals? You have to be visible, ready to be a useful Co-Creator of the value your customers seek everywhere they go across all media, all the time and on the device of their choosing. This is the ideal opportunity for you to create compelling content, highly personalized and relevant to your target audience. Help them learn and discover new approaches, challenge their assumptions, but above all, lend a hand in their discovery process.”
  • p122: “The more your content addresses both their known and unknown ‘must-haves,’ the more your brand is seen as a leading choice in their due-diligence process. Keep in mind that third-party validation, such as social media feedback or testimonials from others at the same stage of their journey, is the gold standard of credibility and authenticity here.”
  • p122: “Once your offering has been ‘discovered,’ the conversation beings. In that conversation, you uncover a potential buyer’s process. Against what criteria will they measure alternatives? Since there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer, you will need to identify buyer profiles, then develop the ability to be responsive to each segment.”
  • p125…neat stuff, right here: “In his book Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Damasio argues that it is fundamentally our feelings and not our thoughts that make us who we are as humans. Emotion, it turns out, is a critical component in nearly every decision we make, and Damasio goes so far as to demonstrate that people who have suffered damage to the cerebral cortex, the emotional center of the brain, find it nearly impossible to make even simple decisions. Even while being able to recognize perfect logic, these patients simply don’t know how they feel about the matters at issue, so they can’t make up their minds.”
  • p125: “Observable features and benefits drive our consideration set, but emotions drive which option we put into the shopping cart.”
  • p127: “Ideally, [product or service or solution] use leads to feelings of that was usefulthat was pleasantthat solved my perceived needthat was exactly what I was looking for. Companies can make the transition from purchase to use a positive experience for buyers by meeting their need for help and support. Buyers need validation that the solution is what they perceived it to be. They form a great deal of their opinion about the value of that investment as they begin to use the purchase, and with that narrative scaffolding firmly in place, they being to write the story of their customer journey, with themselves in the starring role.”
  • p130, relating back to the quote from p113: “When loyal customers become evangelists, finding the next customer and the next no longer absorbs the lion’s share of the organization’s resources. Evangelists do that for you.”
  • p133, haha, how soon we forget: “Recent research tells us that consumers are doing 57% of their due diligence before they ever contact a company.”
  • p137, on the ‘Jerry Maguire’ business model, which basically completely captures my own approach to my company: “This model requires just two components: 1. put clients first, and 2. recognize that a certain level, although not absolute peak performance, really is enough.” That is: I want to make my clients successful, and I’m not looking to grow my company to insane scale in the pursuit of untold riches…I’m happy being happy.
  • p139: “I learned years ago that there are three types of business relationships: a reason, where you think transactionally about why two entities work together; a season, where you put several reasons together over some period; and a lifetime, where you continue to find mutual value, heightened respect, and deepened trust in the relationship.”
  • p143, summarizing a point that’s explained at length in the chapter, and that differs from linear funnel models: “The six stage of the Customer Experience Journey are awareness, discovery and evaluation; leading to purchase, usage, and again, evaluation.”

Co-Create Ahead: Leading through Provocation

“The success of any initiative hinges on the team’s ability to understand the vision and execute it.”

  • p148, vision creates clarity of intent…I happened to read this part of the book the same day I had a discovery meeting about a company vision project: “The success of any initiative hinges on the team’s ability to understand the vision and execute it.”
  • p158: “Leaders regularly undervalue passion as an asset. Passion motivates us to learn, to recover after a mistake, to find inspiration, and to apply it in ways that cross-pollinate and spark innovation.” I’ve written about related topics here and here.
  • p161: “Three requirements for leading individuals and teams composed of passionate people are: 1. Direction; 2. Specificity; and 3. Outcome focus.”
  • p161, echoing something I’ve told many of my clients: “Arm your evangelists with the right ammunition to intelligently tell your story – specific examples that highlight your successes and demonstrate your integrity by being frank about your growing edges as well.”
  • p173, quoting Ronnie West, of Ipreo: “There is often a huge disconnect between a company’s vision and how people in the business understand their contributions to the bigger goals.”

Co-Create Upward: The Spiral of Growth

“Leading drivers are critical to organizations’ upward spiral of growth because they give decision-makers longer runways – more time with more real-time insights – in which to make strategic choices.”

  • This bit from p180 reminds me of something I’ve heard (but not verified) – that Apple’s per-unit advertising cost for their devices is the lowest in the world (which makes sense, intuitively, due to their brand recognition and huge sales volume): “Customer evangelism…can dramatically reduce customer-acquisition costs, freeing up resources to aim for delivering exceptional customer experiences and further creating greater Market Gravity.”
  • p182: “If you frame a challenge or opportunity based on assumptions, it may be flawed. You can waste time and resources going down the wrong path because of a faulty definition… That’s why forward-looking, collaborative decision-making based on verifiable data is so important.”
  • p188: “Leading drivers are critical to organizations’ upward spiral of growth because they give decision-makers longer runways – more time with more real-time insights – in which to make strategic choices.”
  • p194, I liked the distinction made in this section heading: Existing, Impending, and Created Needs

Co-Create Away: Creating Exceptional Experiences and Organizations

“It is not your customer’s job to buy from you.”

  • p216: “It is not your customer’s job to buy from you. It is your job to find out what would make for an exceptional experience from their point of view, and invite them into it.”
  • p226 provides an interesting take on artificial intelligence, quoting Manoj Saxena of Cognitive Scale while discussing IBM’s Watson technology: “We’re moving to a world where the internet is going away. Every business process will be cognitized, pervasive, and free learning.”
  • p237, with a reality that B2B companies know all too well: “Improvements in consumer technology are the single biggest accelerator of customer expectations.”

The Co-Create Canvas

  • p245, I like how it stresses the need to learn rather than simply to educate: “Keep in mind, customers often know what they want but seldom what they need; the difference will be your consultative approach in asking intelligent, engaging questions about their response to compelling market trends.”

Afterword

“It’s never as good or as bad as you think; learn to pause!”

  • p268 closes the book with three reminders from Nour’s own mentors: “1. It’s never as good or as bad as you think; learn to pause! 2. Progress trumps perfection every time; version one is always better than version none! 3. Improve by 1 percent a day, and in seventy days you’re twice as good!”

Lee Brooks is the founder of Cromulent Marketing, a boutique marketing agency specializing in crafting messaging, creating content, and managing public relations for B2B technology companies.

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Posted in Books, Leadership, Marketing

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