September 2013

What Is Your Competition Doing?

2017-08-21T16:01:25-04:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox, SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , , |

Do you know how well your business compares to your competition? More specifically, when it comes to how well you deliver Customer Service and Product & Service Offerings; how comparatively innovative you are?

Also, beyond your competition, how do you compare with others in your industry? Or, how well do you compare in these categories to any business?

I know… these are big questions.

If you do know these things, how do you know? First-hand knowledge? Or, are you relying on a hunch? What you’ve heard? Assumptions?

In this scoop of “Sand for Your Inbox,” we provide the ideas and tools to help your team gain that first-hand knowledge!

Gaining Competitive Insight

Bucket o' Sand IconThe best way to know the answers to any of these questions is to visit and experience for yourself. Be a secret shopper of your competition, and of your industry.

We recommend not only touring your direct competition, but also those who compete in the same category. For example, if you are a bookstore, your competition naturally includes other bookstores in your area. But, you also compete with any retailer who sells books. Don’t just compare your pizza place to other pizza places… Your competition includes all dining-out options.

Go beyond product offering to see how you compare with any other business customer service, in-store policies, signage, speed of service, consumer promotions, etc.

The Process

You and your team visit area locations or locations in a different market to “secret shop” the competition. Divide into small groups, take notes, and share findings with the rest of the team. Here is more detail:


  • Determine what topics/categories you want to explore. Service? Pricing? Product Offerings? Merchandising? In-Store Experience?
  • Create a list of locations that excel in a category.
  • Plot – on a map – a logical path for visiting these locations.
  • Use our suggestions (below) to create your own questions “What To Look For” when you conduct the visits.

Tour Day:

  • Depending on group size, assign topics and visit locations / take notes.
  • Teams return to your meeting point and spend time discussing findings. Prepare 5 to 10-minute presentation to share back to the entire group.
  • Regroup post-tour and discuss finding.

A Few Additional Tips:

  • When visiting, be respectful of the operators.
  • We don’t recommend going in large groups – it becomes too obvious you’re “shopping” their locations.
  • Be careful if you plan to take photos – many businesses get upset when people start using cameras in-store.
  • Make your notes outside and away from the location. Think of how you’d feel if someone was in your location with a clipboard and pen writing things down.
  • If you can afford it – expand the search to a region where you live… or anywhere in the country. Or, if you don’t want to limit your research and have the budget open up the world for this type of benchmarking.

What To Look For

Here are some starter questions and things to look for.

At Location Entrance:

  • Is the entry area clean and inviting?
  • What do you notice even before you enter?

First Impressions:

  • How’s the lighting?
  • Is there music playing?
  • Does the store feel welcoming?
  • Does someone greet you as you enter? Does it feel sincere? Welcoming?


  • What is the overall feel of the location?
  • Is it a place you would feel comfortable to linger – shop leisurely? Or do you get the feeling you’re being whisked through?

Product Quality:

  • Do the products look high quality?
  • If possible, buy and try – especially if it is food or drink related. From what you tried, was it as good as you hoped it would be?


  • How is the product – food, clothing, etc. presented? Does it look fresh?
  • High-end fixtures?Unique fixtures?


  • What do they use to indicate everyday offerings?
  • Pricing?
  • Are their menus slick printed, or handwritten?
  • Does the menu match the brand?
  • Are there specials? Limited time offerings? If so, how did they let you know?

Point of Service/Register:

  • What is the experiencing as you are served and pay for your product?
  • Was the person on the register friendly, nice, courteous?
  • Is the POS area clean or cluttered?

Social Media:

  • Can you tell if they use Twitter, Facebook, etc.? If so, how do you know? Check their social media sites? How many likes and followers?

Lasting Impression:

  • Would you bring a friend from out of town to this concept?
  • Is it a destination?
  • Was visiting this location a memorable experience?

We’ve attached a Store Tour guide we created and used with a client in Washington DC. It features specific locations in the Georgetown area.

The “best” practices you collect allow you to catch up with the competition is doing.  This is the “bar” your customers are using as rate good versus bad. When you catch up to the competition, you should create “next” practices. Next practices – raising that bar – will help make you the leader.

[Download Store Tour Example PDF, 2.2MB]

So, if you want to know how you compare to your competition there is no need for an assumption, check them out firsthand.

December 2012

Innovation Is A Phenomenon, Not A Strategy

2017-08-21T16:16:17-04:00 Categories: create, Innovation, Sand for Your Inbox, SandBlog|Tags: , , , , , |

Innovation isn’t something you do; it is something that happens – a result. To be “innovative”, you have to focus on the things that create that result, not the result itself.

We can’t directly control what is considered innovative no more than a director can guarantee their movie will be Oscar Award-winning or an ad agency can get their video to go viral. But, we can do the things that typically lead to winning an Oscar or going viral. A great script, a great cast, great directing, great cinematography, an amazing score, great effects, clever editing, remarkability, etc.

So is it with innovation. If we stop focusing on the result, we can focus on the things that go into “being” innovative and make sure we get them right.

So, what are these things? They are what I call the practical steps to innovation. A flow and process that will make sure you’re doing the things that lead to developing innovations.

Monitor → Notice → Define → Generate → Decide →
Plan → Champion → Implement → Monitor (again)
This process is a chain. An assembly line, where the output of one process is sent to the next… The reason many companies fail at being innovative is because they’re either skipping a step or doing a poor job one of the process stages. And we know any chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

The Steps


Keeping an eye on your business horizon. Continually monitor your company, the competition, your industry, and related industries. Consumer insights, trend reports, industry overseas. All this is your raw data.

Notice Situation

You don’t monitor only for the sake of monitoring. Try to spot changes, shifts, indicators, and emerging trends. News of relevant upcoming technology or report of a change in consumer preferences should get you excited and alert. This is making meaning of all the data.

Define Objectives

When you notice a change, problem or opportunity, you should put it in perspective of what it means to you.

Generate Ideas

Using the objectives defined above, pick existing solutions or generate new ideas to meet the goals.

Decide On Solution

Hopefully, you’ve got at least three options generated above. Choose which best satisfies the objective.

Craft Your Plan

Write down the milestones, actions, and tasks as well as the leads and budgets needed to successfully carry out the solution.

Be the Champion

“Ideas are only as fragile the backbone behind them.” You’ve got to create a culture where different and novel isn’t considered scary or too risky. (Else your big ideas get whittled down to wimpy improvements). You’ve got to guide these innovative ideas through to funding, support, and implementation.


I know it sounds obvious… but this is doing it. And, doing it properly. Implementing is also about sticking with a project or program and seeing it through. Don’t let the lack of patience be misinterpreted as lack of success. Too often, we don’t see an overnight result and declare it a failure.

Monitor (again)

Now that you’ve got a program going, you need to add it to the things you’re tracking. Sometimes you’ll notice you need to course correct. That’s great – monitoring will allow you to make those minor adjustments versus sitting back and finding out that you’re not successful, and it’s too late to do anything about it.

To Put Too Fine A Point On It

These ideas need to go beyond creating an improvement – that is simply making something better. They need to be different. They also need to be more than invention – simply creating something. Innovation is better and novel. Innovation is remarkable – literally worth being remarked about.

By following each step you: see changes as they come proactively move to action; build and implement a plan around an idea that is different, better, novel and remarkable.

While declaring something an innovation is ultimately up to the audience, in using this flow, you will have performed all the right steps to generate the right conditions to create an innovation.

September 2009

Reanimate Your Brand, Frankenstein-Style

2017-03-01T11:56:21-04:00 Categories: grow, SandBlog|Tags: , |

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a build-a-brand kit that provided all the pieces necessary to construct the perfect business?

You could have it delivered to the office just like a cabinet from IKEA. The flat carton would contain the components, the fasteners in a bag, and a special tool to put it all together. It would probably be labeled in Swedish as: SÄLLSKAP (company), FRAMGÅNG (success) or BRÄNDJÄRN (brand).

While not pre-packaged, there is a way you can assemble (or re-assemble) your company using only the best parts.

This is where Dr. Victor Frankenstein enters the scene.

This character in Mary Shelly’s book The Modern Prometheus (better known as Frankenstein) had the right idea. Find the best parts you need to build what you want.

He needed and found a head, a brain, eyes, a heart, arms and legs, the torso, and the rest – stitching them together to form a whole new thing. A company needs the same.

The mistake Dr. F made, was he used expired parts. It’s no wonder he found his creation revolting (and spend most of the book hiding from it). We’re going to use only the best, living parts for our creation.

Your Laboratory

Here are key steps to building your creation.
Identify – Which parts of your company are you missing or need attention? For example:

  • Brain = smarts and innovation
  • Heart = passion and compassion
  • Eyes = vision for the future
  • Feet = swiftness
  • Torso = flexibility
  • Hands = dexterity and ability to fix mistakes

Seek – Find role model people, companies, or organizations that are doing an exemplary job managing these parts.

Gather – Get the parts from the other companies. Learn what they’re doing. Study, research, read about, call, and meet with the company to understand. (Be prepared to give some of your own parts in exchange.)

Assemble – Share what you’ve gained within your organization. Stitch them into your organization.

Reanimate – The jolt of a lightning bolt sparks to life Frankenstein’s creation. Find a way to spark excitement in your own organization.

Which parts from which companies would you choose?

Marketing Medic John Moore of the Brand Autopsy Marketing Practice has created a presentation to help you perform a Marketing Physical. Check it out.

I originally wrote and published this article on the Marketing Profs Daily Fix Blog site.

September 2008

How To Use Bookmark Tags For Brand Insights

2009-01-03T11:40:20-04:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , |

Ever wonder what people associate with your company or brand? I do.

One measure is to examine the “key words” people use when they bookmark your website/blog.

Delicious is an online bookmarking service that allows users to label a site with tags meaningful for that user. By viewing how Delicious users have tagged your site, you can get an idea of how you’re perceived.

The pie chart below represents Idea Sandbox is perceived. These are the most common tags Delicious users have stuck on Idea Sandbox.

I don’t see the word “retail” or “retail marketing” on that list. I’d like to be associated with retail marketing. This means that I… (a) don’t convey that, (b) don’t talk about it enough, or (c) perhaps I *do* talk about it, but that’s not how Delicious users have used my site.

Important to note…these are not the tags I use to describe my posts or site (like what Technorati reports)… this is what you have labeled.

You can use the URL look-up tool on Delicious (, to see what tags people have labeled any website.

March 2007

Company Perception Measured –

2007-03-26T09:20:51-04:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , , , |

Do The Right Thing Logo

Because of my recent chatter about Starbucks, I received a note from the folks running Do The Right It is a social media site about “people changing business.”

People can share information about companies and others rate the relative social importance – positive or negative – of that information. The ratings are aggregated and an overall DoTheRightThing score is given for that company.

Do The Right Thing Scale

For example, someone posts a story stating Wal-Mart provides free parking space in their parking lot for people with recreational vehicles (RVs) to park overnight. It makes RVers better customers and helps keep the area safer. If I think it important, I could rate that fact very positive (PIONEER) to very negative (SEVERE). If I don’t think it matters, I don’t vote at all. So only ‘hot’ issues get discussed.

The site has been compiling ratings for a couple of weeks for Wal-Mart, Starbucks Coffee and Whole Foods Market. In fact today these companies have their first “DoTheRightThing” Index posted. More companies are being rated and added. Here’s the

“DoTheRightThing” Index

  • Whole Foods Market – 125
  • Starbucks Coffee – 95
  • Wal-Mart – 85

Here’s what DoTheRightThing say about themselves…

Dotherightthing is the place where you can learn and share information about how companies impact the world.

All are welcome – people who buy the stuff, who make the stuff, who live in communities where the stuff is made, and who have transcendent abilities to speak on behalf of that which cannot speak (like wildlife and the environment).

On dotherightthing, you can:

  • Share information that you discover about companies’ impacts on people and the world
  • Learn about the activities of companies directly from people and rate the impact of the important ones
  • Track the “social performance” of companies in real time

We’re changing the way companies earn our interest, as consumers, employees, and/or investors, by recognizing those that do the right thing.

You can see in the clip below… An article is accompanied by a rating… And you can see how many people have voted.

Do The Right Thing Clip

As this site takes off it may provide a gauge for companies to measure their own perception. While reality is one thing, consumer perception is another.

What’s nice is that DoTheRightThing encourages folks from the companies listed to have company representatives participate and offer insight, corrections, and/or answer questions directly.

A flaw with the site (or is it a flaw in humans) is that the site is based on what people post and say. While something posted maybe erroneous, if enough people find the story important and rate it fiction can become fact.

It will be interesting to see how the site takes off! Visit the site and leave your reactions here.