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SSA Notebook | October 2013


How PBS Reinvented Itself from a Legacy Brand to a Digital Leader by Rewarding Failure

In order to continuously innovate, businesses must applaud experimentation, even when it fails. This HBR piece highlights how this very notion transformed PBS. In 2007, PBS faced stalled growth and a weak product pipeline. Moreover, a “deeply engrained culture of caution” paralyzed its digital team. That’s when Jason Seiken, PBS’ SVP of Digital, recognized the need for a “disruptive shock.” Seiken began by adding a new “failure metric” to everyone’s performance goals, but that wasn’t sufficient to create a culture of rapid iteration. So they focused instead on endlessly reinforcing the “must fail message.” Overall, the results profoundly transformed PBS: the development team became agile, staffers did not fear risks, and the business generated critical results. For example, since the delivery of the failure metric, unique visitors to have doubled. Companies that do not rapidly iterate new products and create learning cycles from failures will find themselves obsolete.

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Lessons Corporations can Learn from FitBit, The Startup that Just Raised $43M

Amidst a saturated market of wearable devices, FitBit stays ahead of the pack. The company went from selling products online to gradually adding retailers (today it’s being sold at about 20,000 Best Buy stores). This Inc. interview with FitBit’s CEO provides interesting lessons about growth and innovation. (1) Find creative ways to prove your concept with paying customers. To avoid costs associated with hardware product development, FitBit allowed customers to preorder the device (knowing that it was in development), but did not process charges until the product was ready to ship. Pre-orders rolled in, investors gained the confidence to dish up $2M, and the product became a reality. (2) Focus on creating a best-in-class user experience. FitBit uses data science to design for the best user experience. (3) Strategic planning in your innovation cycle ensures relevancy. Apple and other competitors will enter this space soon. Understanding and defining responses to the changing competitive landscape will allow you to survive as the field becomes more crowded.

Reinventing Insurance through Big Data: MetLife’s Innovative Customer Service Product

Technology, innovation, speed, and agility are words not typically associated with the insurance industry, unless you are MetLife. Thanks to a $300M investment in new technology, the firm is rapidly innovating new product offerings and creating a superior customer experience. For example, as described in this InformationWeek article, Metlife recently integrated data from more than 70 separate administrative systems to create “The Wall,” an application that offers a 360-degree view of each customer. As a result, customers no longer wait on hold as agents pull up relevant data, thereby increasing customer satisfaction and call-center productivity. The Wall also includes cross-sell information for agents to capitalize on and simplifies training of new staff. Gary Hoberman, MetLife’s CIO and SVP of Regional Application Development, discusses in this GigaOm blog how quickly MetLife implemented this IT system (a prototype in 2 weeks, up and running in 3 months). Hoberman attributes this speed and startup mentality to a clear focus on building something useful, rather than “doing big data for big data’s sake.”

Does Your Business Strategy Move Fast Enough? If Not, Your Firm Too May Be a Victim of a Kodak Moment

This Economist article covers how the introduction of the electronic cigarette has forced tobacco giants to rethink their strategies to stay competitive. E-cigarette sales are rising, and manufacturers and retailers continue to see higher margins from the lack of regulations and excise tax. So the tobacco industry is “beginning to wonder if it is reaching a Kodak moment, its version of the point at which the world’s leading maker of camera film realised that consumers had gone digital, and it was too late to chase them.” Goldman Sachs has called e-cigarettes “one of the world’s eight most disruptive technologies” and predicts they could grab 10% of the overall tobacco market in a few years. To avoid this fate, many tobacco firms are moving toward less-toxic offerings. Kodak failed because it could not unstick from its old strategy. Cigarette companies, if not responsive to changes in the competitive landscape, could be victims of the same.

SSA, Della Femina and Creativity

It is well known that the advertising sector, like so many others in 21st-century business life, is undergoing huge change. To help our clients and friends make sense of this transition, we created a new partnership with Jerry Della Femina , who was listed by Advertising Age as one of the 100 most influential advertising leaders in the 20th century. As this Financial Times piece that we co-authored with Mr. Della Femina lays out, the winners in today’s highly competitive and profoundly changed environment will be those who can get right and balance creativity with efficiency. We thought you would find this interesting, and we would love any thoughts or perspectives on this topic.